Twenty-five NFL teams will participate in at least one joint practice with another club this month. Of those 25 teams, 10 are participating in joint practices with multiple organizations this preseason. Both numbers are up slightly from last year’s totals of 23 and seven, respectively, and up drastically from a decade ago.
In short, joint practices are all the rage at the next level.
Could they be part of the future of college football? West Virginia head coach Neal Brown would like to see it happen.
“I really wish in fall camp, like, we’re making so many changes in our game with TV and the money and things like that, I think we really need to look at a combined practice,” Brown said last week. “I think it would really be beneficial.”
This is not a foreign concept in collegiate athletics.
Basketball teams conduct closed-door scrimmages and/or play an exhibition game(s) before the start of their regular seasons. Soccer and volleyball teams also take advantage of the opportunities to hold exhibition matches.
“I think it would be better for our game. Our product would be better early in the year if you’re able to do that,” Brown added. “You see the NFL teams do it, where they do back-to-back days, where they do controlled team things, and I think that would be really beneficial for our game.”
What would the college football model look like for joint practices?
In the NFL, teams who conduct joint practices normally share the field for a day or two, and then face off against one another a few days later in a scheduled preseason game. These joint practices have led to some noteworthy moments (i.e. DeAndre Hopkins-DeAngelo Hall in 2015), and can help coaches get a better understanding of players, position battles, and their own playbooks.
Typically, joint practices between NFL teams are held during the week and are sometimes open to fans.
“I think it should be your first weekend, or sometime during your second week, and you just do back-to-back practices,” Brown said Monday when asked about his ideal college football join-practice scenario. “You do 7-on-7, you do pass pro, pass rush, you do an inside drill, you do some controlled team setting stuff where, you not necessarily scrimmage but you do very similar to what the NFL teams do.”
Brown doesn’t believe college football will evolve to having preseason games. Nor does he think the opposing team at a joint practice, say, West Virginia’s for example, have to come from a Power 5 conference. He did suggest scheduling with a program within a team’s region.
There is another factor programs would have to consider, as well.
“It needs to be somebody from a coaching staff you have trust in, because you don’t want them sharing,” said Brown. “And you want to make sure that they practice in the right way.”
West Virginia’s fifth-year head coach believes there are many benefits to this.
One benefit is it would give coaches a better understanding of their own team. They could better discern player competitiveness and physicality, their playbooks, and uncover things they otherwise might not see while only conducting intra-squad scrimmages.
From the players’ side, it would be a refreshing change of pace. The preseason can become monotonous and frustrating on account of largely repeating the same drills over and over again in the month-long buildup to the regular season. Joint practices would remind veteran players of the speed of the game, while giving first-year players an idea of what’s to come.
“I think it benefits everybody, especially if you’re going to play a young kid that’s going to play. Yeah. Because you don’t know exactly what you’re going to see,” added Brown.
There is one drawback to this wish, as Brown was quick to point out. College football has other issues to attend to first. The transfer portal, NIL rules and regulations, conference realignment, on-field rules changes, the recruiting calendar, and other facets of the sport will take precedence over the idea of joint practices.
Brown said he has discussed it in American Football Coaches Association meetings in the past. And while this idea isn’t at the forefront of the sport’s discussion now, he feels it won’t be long before programs are combining preseason practices with other programs in the so-called dog days of fall camp.
“I really do think if you go five, ten years in advance, I think you’re going to see that,” Brown said. “But it’s after we get some of these other issues kind of ironed out.”