Why Does Alabama Play These Games?

There are many who think that the Alabamas of the college football world should not be playing the Florida Atlantics. In the first three or four weeks of the football season the college football schedule is loaded with non-conference mismatches.

One of those is Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa when Alabama, 3-0 and ranked number one in the nation, hosts Florida Atlantic, a team with a 1-2 record and coming off a 20-56 loss at Georgia.

For the big guys, it's ordinarily something like an NFL pre-season game, an opportunity to work out the kinks and give a number of back-up players the opportunity to show what they can do in a game.

Frankly, the teams of the Southeastern Conference feel they have earned a few breathers since they play eight league games in what is considered the strongest conference. That's not to say all SEC teams play nothing but breathers in non-conference play. Far from it. Bama opened the season against top 10 (then) Michigan. Ole Miss hosted Texas. Auburn played Clemson. At the end of the year, Florida has its rivalry game against Florida State.

For the little guys, it's the opportunity to play before a big crowd and perhaps prove that they belong on the big stage, to be the Appalachian State against Michigan or the Louisiana Monroe against Arkansas.

Alabama has been the victim in some of those games, to Louisiana Monroe and Northern Illinois, among them.

It's also about the money. Alabama has a huge athletics budget with football providing the cash for all sports except men's basketball. Florida Atlantic and other Sun Belt-type schools aren't going to have television and bowl revenue and 100,000 crowds and thousands of major donors. When the Crimson Tide hosts Florida Atlantic, Bama will write a nice check, in the million-dollar range. And Alabama will keep the rest, which will be substantial.

Over the years there has been a suggestion that Alabama keep that money in the state by playing those money games against the state's smaller schools. They do have games for sale, as represented by Jacksonville State going to Arkansas, South Alabama going to Mississippi State, UAB going to South Carolina, et al.

Joker Phillips at Kentucky probably doesn't think that's a good idea. This season, the Wildcats have lost to two in-state teams, Louisville and Western Kentucky. And Joker probably won't be coaching at Kentucky next season.

Alabama doesn't bully the in-state small schools, but it's probably not for humanitarian reasons. Recruiting is everything, and it is likely the Tide doesn't want to give those schools a talking point to take away even one player that Bama would like.

UAB still gets all giggly thinking about their basketball team beating Alabama in the long ago.

The danger for Alabama playing Florida Atlantic is that the players won't have their hearts in preparation. The players have seen the videotapes and know the Tide has a much better team.

This week that didn't happen.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "The players have really responded well this week. We've had better intensity, focus in practice."

Saban challenges his players "to develop those kinds of habits so you can finish the things the way you want to finish them and we can finish practice , finish games, play with more discipline and focus for a longer period of time."

He said he asked the players, "Did you come here to make the team, or did you come here to make the team better?" And, "Are you just here to contribute to yourself or are you here to contribute to everybody else?"

He added, "The quality of what we do as a team is how we finish the race. We've got a long way to go, we've got a lot of good teams to play."

Although no one would consider Florida Atlantic to be one of those good teams remaining, Saban pointed out, "I'm sure all those guys grew up wanting to play at a place like this. And this is a great opportunity for them. We need to be ready to do the things we need to do to execute and play our best football and try to improve as a team."

There's another nice thing about Saturday's game. The Tide has played once in Dallas, once in Fayetteville, and only once in Tuscaloosa.

Saban said, "We're really looking forward to playing at home again. The players kind of feel like we didn't play very well at home the last time, so maybe we'll be able to play a little better this time around."

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