Chris Bahn: Bielema’s Razorback Spring Practice Policies Fine For Now

With Arkansas football spring practice just a few days from its official start, it seemed like an appropriate time to do one of those “5 questions entering spring practice” columns.

As it turns out, a single question — a philosophical one that man has pondered for years — might be more appropriate: If a practice happens in the stadium and no fans or media are around to see it, did it really happen?

If nobody in a Hog hat can sneak iPhone video of Julian Horton matched up against Tevin Mitchel in pass skeleton drills, if media can’t chart every snap delivered by the second-team center … then what does it all mean? Why are we here, man?

Bret Bielema’s decision to close down spring practice access has naturally been met with some criticism and skepticism by fans and media. There are, of course, complaints from message board Joe and Twitter land, and even a protest in the featured-columnist spot at the statewide daily.

What makes it so curious for a lot of folks is that Bielema’s predecessor (well, the predecessor to his predecessor) was pretty liberal with his spring practice policies. Those tended to be wide open for fans and media despite how iron-fisted and secretive Bobby Petrino seemed to be.

Bielema was viewed as the anti-Petrino, friendly and approachable. He was going to be the guy who offered you the rest of his large catch at the Catfish Hole, instead of just glaring at you while you worked up the courage to ask for an autograph. Because of Bielema’s personality in public appearances — he’s come off a lot like the fun-time, beer swilling, joke-telling insurance salesman buddy whose house you went to for the Super Bowl — folks just took for granted that he was going to operate his program in a wide-open manner.

Bret Bielema with Hugh Elementary Students in El Dorado

Bret Bielema with Hugh Goodwin Elementary Students in El Dorado


What got lost in the toasts on Dickson and roasts of his assistants during public appearances is that Bielema is getting paid to coach football. It’s up to him to figure out how to best prepare for Nick Saban and Les Miles and Kevin Sumlin and Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn and all the other guys trying to figure out how to run the Southeastern Conference’s consecutive national title streak to eight.

It’s a tough task.

Because of his success at Wisconsin and because of how he’s conducted himself so far, Bielema deserves the benefit of the doubt at this point. If he thinks the team needs closed practices in the spring, then why not?

Side note: it does always humor me to hear coaches talk about eliminating the distraction of fans and media in the stands during practices, like there won’t be 101,821 fans at Bryant-Denny or 92,542 in Death Valley to distract from the task at hand. More than anything I’m sure Bielema just wants a chance to evaluate his players in peace with no outside play-by-play on every snap of practice filtering back to players.

Media will get some access throughout the spring, so there will be updates, just fewer of them. Fans still have a chance to see the Red-White game on April 20. Perhaps not having practice wide-open all spring will boost attendance at the spring game? Maybe this gives fans the incentive to fill the stands in April the way other SEC powers do.

But this is more about competing with those SEC schools in the fall than in the spring.

Think back to the day Bielema was hired. He wasn’t all jokes and pig farming stories.

Bielema spoke that day about wanting to give the Razorbacks something they’d never had before. Fans have never seen an SEC title and Bielema is working to make that a reality.

If the guy puts some hardware on display in the football museum, nobody will mind they can’t get an extended look at Razorback spring practice.

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