SI Vault
Douglas S. Looney
September 03, 1990
Want to know how to make the college game better in almost every way? It's easy. Just return to one-platoon football
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September 03, 1990

One Is More Like It

Want to know how to make the college game better in almost every way? It's easy. Just return to one-platoon football

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At least one athletic director at a major university has run the figures for his entire program and concludes that one-platoon football would save his school nearly $1.5 million a year all told (chart, page 35). There would be savings at smaller schools, too. John Gagliardi, coach at Division III St. John's in Collegeville, Minn., for the past 37 years, estimates that total savings for his school would amount to "at least 50 percent."

2) The players would love it. Former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler and former LSU coach Paul Dietzel, among others, allow that this would be the case. Both Schembechler and Dietzel choose the exact same words for their thoughts: "Well, the players would enjoy it more." That might sadden these two old drill sergeants, because most coaches hate anything that makes the coach less important and the player more important, and one-platoon football would make the player more important.

It's instructive to recall why football was started in the first place—as a nice diversion for male college students who happened to like knocking each other around for a few hours on pleasant Saturday afternoons in the fall. Ask any college football player if he would like to play both offense and defense and, without exception, every one lights up at the prospect. Even quarterbacks.

3) The game would bring out the best in players. Says Paterno, "Players would have to work hard to make themselves good at something they were not good at." For instance, a star running back would need to learn how to cover a receiver in order to be able to play cornerback. Or a linebacker would have to learn to pass block. Ron Schipper, the coach at Central College in Pella, Iowa for the past 29 years, says, "They would be able to get down in the trenches, play after play, and just go after it. And it would get rid of some of these prima donnas. Players would have to be great, great competitors." Walden agrees and says, "It would broaden the players' horizons."

Players who have played both ways get misty-eyed at the memories. Leroy Keyes, who played halfback and cornerback for Purdue from 1966 to '68—even though two-platoon football had just been made legal—says, "To play both ways gave me the highest degree of confidence. It was an honor. I believed in my ability to do it all."

Four years ago, another Purdue player, Rod Woodson, played in 137 plays as the Boilermakers whipped Indiana 17-15. "Apparently," says Woodson, now a defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, "God gave me the ability to play offense and defense." Apparently. He rushed for 93 yards on 15 carries in that game and caught three passes for 87 yards. As a cornerback, he was in on 10 tackles (with seven solo stops), caused a fumble and broke up a pass. He also returned two kickoffs for a total of 46 yards, and had three punt returns. "It was a great opportunity, and it was fun," says Woodson. "I like offense because it's exciting, and defense because it's challenging. I think players should be given the opportunity to try both. Why not?" Woodson has talked to the Steelers about playing a little wide receiver. The Steelers, of course, told him not to hold his breath.

4) The all-around athlete will predominate. Walden likes the idea that a one-platoon system would "eliminate the one-dimensional athlete and do away with the big lug who can't get out of harm's way." There would be more players like Johnny Roland, who was an All-America defensive back in 1965 and the next year was the NFL Rookie of the Year at running back for the St. Louis Cardinals. Or Gordie Lockbaum of Holy Cross, who wasn't real big or real fast, but starred at tailback and defensive back for the Crusaders from 1984 to '87 and finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy his senior year.

At Washington State, coach Mike Price, a former quarterback and defensive back for the Cougars ("I wasn't good enough to play either offense or defense, so I played both"), says that the "all-around athlete would become a star again. He would play all the time. And the fans would get to know him." Which, except in the case of a handful of stars, doesn't happen with the current cast of thousands. Who, for example, was the starting pulling guard for the national champion Miami Hurricanes last season? But this season, a fellow at Tennessee named Carl Pickens could become as famous as Lockbaum if he continues the success he had last season playing both receiver and free safety.

"Blocking doesn't teach you to tackle, so what two-platoon football does is make a man a lesser player," says Walden. At its core, football is blocking and tackling, and former Missouri coach Dan Devine finds it wrong that "we have these kids who have never blocked and the other half who have never tackled."

5) The players will be better conditioned and there will be fewer injuries. Price says there would be a shift "from training to be a sprinter to being a marathoner, from an emphasis on explosive mass to conditioning the overall body."

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