Couch: The advantage of MSU’s spring football silence – Lansing State Journal

EAST LANSING – If you’re jonesing for Michigan State spring football updates, this has been a tough month for you.

But consider yourself about as informed as ever.

Until Tuesday, not a coach or player has been interviewed this spring, as the program waits to learn if three suspended players are going to be charged in connection with a sexual assault investigation. MSU on Monday night announced a Mark Dantonio press conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

MSU is in an awkward spot. It’s about to get a heckuva lot more awkward at this Saturday’s spring game — open to the public and scheduled for 3 p.m. at Spartan Stadium — if no decision is reached by the Ingham County prosecutor’s office before then. The suspended players will be missing, in front of everyone. So, too, will other injured or suspended players, who deserve better than the speculation that will follow. That’s an ethics question for newsrooms this week.

In terms of what’s happening on the field, you’re better off in some ways than in other years, when you think you know more but don’t.

Know this: Spring practice is never open to reporters. It’s open for interviews. There’s a difference. The difference is everything.

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Consider a few of the stories that have emerged from recent springs, prior to the spring game:

– Andrew Maxwell is outplaying Connor Cook at quarterback.

– Le’Veon Bell might be complacent.

– Donnie Corley is Jerry Rice.

These narratives fizzled after the spring game revealed otherwise or after September confirmed their dubiousness.

College football spring games, MSU’s included, are hardly bastions of truth — only occasionally is there a telling performance. But at least they’re open. The questions asked of the Spartans’ coaches and players are based on what has just been seen by everyone.

MSU ought to have at least a couple open spring practices before its annual scrimmage – open to fans and writers. MSU basketball does it in-season for reporters, before every game, with certain off-the-record conditions. That’s rare by college basketball standards, but smart. The more writers understand, the less unintelligible crud coaches have to read about their own program. That’s harder to do in football, where the coverage is amplified and every game is so important.

In the spring, however, MSU’s football team isn’t game-planning for an opponent. There’s nothing (most years) to see that impacts September. Being open would drive interest and keep expectations for players in line with reality. But that’s coach Mark Dantonio’s choice. It’s his program. Like with most college football coaches, the paranoia is real.

And it doesn’t bother me. Selfishly, I prefer it this way. Football in March and April is unnatural. I want nothing to do with it.

Yet as long as spring practices are closed, the information pushed by or prodded from coaches is from one perspective. A seasoned and perceptive reporter can sometimes read the tea leaves. For example, it was clear at this time last year that Tyler O’Connor was the starting quarterback ahead of Damion Terry, even if it hadn’t been announced. That’s not always the case.

Just as often, we’re wrong, because the coaches are wrong or their information turns out to be wrong or somewhere in-between. Often, the information is embellished — a little too hopeful — or delivered with enthusiasm, and we lap it up. And because practices are off limits, we don’t have any contradictory knowledge.

This spring game, we’ll all go in fresh, beyond what Dantonio says Tuesday. We won’t learn a ton that’s relevant to the upcoming season Saturday, but we also won’t have to sift through as many preconceived notions to figure out what we really think.

Contact Graham Couch at gcouch@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.

MSU football spring game

When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium

Admission: Free

Youth clinic: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Duffy Daugherty practice fields

TV: Big Ten Network

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