Some of the best high school football in the country is played in Ohio.
The same could be said of Florida, Texas, California and Georgia – the only states that annually produce more blue-chip, five-star college recruits than Ohio.
The only difference is Ohio is the only one of those states without some form of spring football practice.
Maybe, by that math, Ohio doesn’t need spring football. But if we had it, would the rest of the country be chasing the Buckeye State?
Ohio already ranks in the top 5 in the nation in Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees and has nine Heisman Trophy winners (tied with Texas for the second most in the country).
Yet the fact that Ohio high school football players can’t seize the spring opportunities afforded to their counterparts in other states routinely leaves many head football coaches scratching their heads as to why.
The simple answer is that the state athletics governing body – the Ohio High School Athletic Association – does not allow it.
But the argument, which falls on all sides, continues to be made.
It boils down to this: Would the addition of spring football help or hurt Ohio high school football players?
So why not?
The OHSAA gets asked this question seemingly every year. So, when The Enquirer reached out this summer, the OHSAA had the following answer ready to roll out like its probably done dozens, maybe hundreds of times.
From the OHSAA:
- Spring sports participation must be protected. The OHSAA believes that any amount of spring football practice would reduce the participation numbers in spring sports, which already have a short season due to weather.
- The OHSAA encourages students to play several sports instead of specializing in one sport.
- By not allowing spring football practice, it helps prevent additional physical contact and injuries, including concussions, which exist during the football season.
- Football instruction is already permitted in spring for groups up to seven players together at a time.
- While some coaches want spring practice, many coaches do not want football practice in the spring because they also coach a spring sport. In addition, even for those football coaches who do not coach a spring sport, it would be rare for a football coach to be paid any additional money by the school to hold spring football practice.
- If spring football practice was permitted, the catastrophic insurance policy would be much more expensive. The current policy, which is more than $700,000, is paid by the OHSAA, not our member schools.
- High school football exposure to college coaches and the talent-level in Ohio have not been hurt due to lack of spring football.
Most of the local head football coaches who spoke to The Enquirer still want it.
After all, Ohio’s next-door neighbors – Kentucky and Indiana – allow spring football and it seems to work fine. Student-athletes in those states who want to play a spring sport are allowed. That is, they aren’t required to attend spring football practice if they have a conflicting obligation in baseball, lacrosse or track and field.
In Ohio, most coaches believe that more time on the football field with their kids would not only help those kids when fall and full equipment arrives, but it would benefit athletes who are trying to get college football scholarships because they can get noticed much earlier in the recruiting cycle.
“Let’s be honest, a lot of these kids now are playing sports to try and get a scholarship,” said Elder coach Doug Ramsey. “Let’s help them. And I don’t want to hurt other sports … but at the same time, if we have an opportunity to help kids get recruited we need to do it.”
Colerain head coach Tom Bolden agreed. “It does nothing but benefit the kids. The Association (OHSAA) may think coaches just want to do this … no, we want to do what’s best for the kids and what’s best for the kids is allowing them to be exposed to college coaches in the right situation.”
Many coaches made the argument that not having Ohio spring ball puts a lot of potential college football players in an uphill battle in terms of getting noticed while scholarships are still available.
Some coaches, like Sycamore’s Scott Dattilo, believe the recruiting argument is secondary.
“My take, and it’s a gray take, is I don’t want it,” Dattilo said. “We expect so much of our players as it is. We want them to play multiple sports. There’s summer baseball, summer basketball, we want them in the weight room. I think it’s very advantageous for the big schools that have kids that specialize more than a school like ours. Spring football for me would not have a whole lot of an advantage.”
Milford head coach Tom Grippa was one of many area coaches who expressed mixed feelings about spring ball. On one hand, he wants his kids involved in other spring sports, but he also understands how spring football practice could be beneficial.
“The spring practices do help the kids get college recruited,” Grippa said. “I’ve had some kids that this will be their second year on varsity. They’re going to have huge jumps if someone like Miami or OU or Ohio State could come down and watch us practice in the spring and see these kids.
“Now, they’re going to wait ’til the fall and scholarships are really gone. It hurts our kids for scholarships.”
Football is unique in that almost every other state-sanctioned high school sport has a secondary season of competition that falls outside the jurisdiction of the OHSAA, and the latter is the one that often gets he or she recruited.
“That’s where we’re different than the other sports,” said Ramsey. “Basketball, they’ve got high school but then they have AAU and that’s where they’re getting recruited. Baseball has baseball season and then they have summer baseball, that’s where they’re getting recruited.
“For us, for our guys to be seen you either are gonna put them with these 7-on-7 guys that I’m not a big fan of or it’s gotta be all through college camps.
“(If Ohio had spring football) I can send an email to all the coaches I know and say, ‘Here are the five days Elder High School is practicing, you can come watch us.'”
This scenario creates a situation where Ohio high school football players, in order to get noticed before the high school and college seasons begin – and when college recruiters are limited because of their in-season coaching obligations – are forced to take it upon themselves to get seen. They do this by traveling to colleges camps and coaching clinics.
Aside from the fact that it’s not something everyone can afford to do, it also means that those high school kids will be receiving instruction from coaches or administrators they’re unfamiliar with.
This doesn’t sit well with high school coaches.
It doesn’t even sit well with some college coaches. Most notably, Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer, who in a 2014 interview with Cleveland.com addressed this situation.
Meyer called these coaching clinics one of his biggest concerns.
“It is even more now because my son is going to begin playing high school football, and I want him to be coached by his high school coach.
“What I have seen happen over the last few years is players, when not allowed to work with coaches, are going to go to other sports-performance venues and have to go to clinics and get taught by people other than their high school coaches. I want my son being coached by the high school coach.”
When asked if spring football could work in Ohio, Meyer said, “I would have to study it more. Certainly, it would make an evaluator’s job easier, and you’re counting about another year of football training.
“The negatives are, my son is going to play baseball, too. I don’t ever want to see spring sports be affected by spring football. There’s a time period – maybe after basketball before you get into baseball or after baseball – where maybe our coaches have access to them (as a positive).”
Meyer went on to say that this time would not be spent with the bruising, full-contact football seen under the lights on fall Friday nights, it would be the fundamentals – “all the things it takes years and years and repetition to teach these guys how to play.”
Elder’s Ramsey added: “What would (Alabama head football coach) Nick Saban say if his players, in June, were going to 20 different NFL camps and they weren’t with their teammates working? We have so many kids miss lifting and all these things because they’re going to (college) camps. Maybe we could eliminate a little of that as well.”
All those opposed
Other local coaches seem to have one foot on both sides of the fence. They see positives and negatives. Some agree that more time with their players would be positive and it would be beneficial in the annual race for recruiting, but others pointed to the increasing demands on student-athletes.
“I don’t know that I’m a fan of spring football,” said St. Xavier head coach Steve Specht. “I think that kids in Ohio, at least, need to play baseball, they need to run track, they need to play lacrosse, they need to play tennis.”
Although, Specht agrees that recruiting would be elevated.
“We’ve got kids here that play all those sports in the spring and I don’t know if there’s a middle ground but I do know that college recruiting … and I don’t care who you talk to, our kids, the high school kids, get hurt by not being able to show schools what they can do.”
At smaller schools, a spring football installment would be less plausible because they rely so heavily on multi-sport athletes.
“You have to look at the size of the school and what your kids are engaged in. Here at Loveland, two-thirds of our kids are two-sport athletes. For us, it just wouldn’t work out,” said Loveland head coach Fred Cranford.
Coaches may be conflicted but not local athletic directors.
Almost all cited protecting spring sports. Mason athletic director Scott Stemple even worried that some athletes would try to burn both ends by playing a spring sport and trying to participate in spring football.
“The other concern is budgetary,” said Stemple. “If this came to fruition, would coaches be seeking additional pay/supplementals for their time in the spring to keep up with other schools that would make this commitment? I think the majority of school districts in Ohio would not support this financially.”
In Northern Kentucky, the feeling among athletic directors is quite different.
“The benefits have been enormous to us,” said Covington Catholic athletic director Tony Bacigalupo.
This argument isn’t going away. It has and will continue to grow like a brush fire because of how competitive college football and its vast recruiting realm continues to be.
And it will burn for as long as coaches in Ohio feel like their players are getting short-changed.