Benjamin Cohen

Is there any reason Alabama football and men’s basketball can’t play in-state teams?

There would seem to be more pluses than minuses for Alabama playing in-state colleges

When Alabama followers think of Paul Bryant, the obvious is that he was as good at his job of football coach as anyone ever has been. In these days of college football realignment, it is worth remembering that Bryant the Alabama athletics director was also a stablizing force for the Southeastern Conference.


Bryant rejected the thought of Alabama going the route of the independent, as Notre Dame had always been and Georgia Tech and Tulane would become in the 1960s. Bryant was also agreeable to the SEC having an agreement with the Sugar Bowl for the league to send its football champion to New Orleans every year, even though that might have cost Alabama a shot at a national championship match-up in some other bowl game. (As it turned out, it did not.)


Why think of this? The Big 12 conference has problems from every direction, it seems, and is trying to do something about it. Unlike Alabama the team player in the SEC, Texas – which has dominated Southwest football the way the Crimson Tide has dominated Southern football for decades – is all for Texas to the detriment of its conference brethren. Texas strongarm tactics are considered the cause of the breakup of the old Southwest Conference and a threat to the Big 12.


Meanwhile, the Big 12 has other concerns. Baylor is one and there is no guessing where this goes, particularly as to any future recently-fired Coach Art Briles might fit in.


Additionally, the Big 12 may benefit from expansion by two or more teams and is looking around at what might be available. There are no candidates among the college level football schools in Alabama.


Which leads to a thought about those schools. Teams in Alabama are members of various conferences, but what if all the conferences save the Power 5 (SEC, Big 10, ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12) were all dissolved and realignment took place in those leagues? We’re talking American Athletic, Sun Belt, Conference USA, etc.


Teams in Alabama (not including SEC members Alabama and Auburn) could put together a very good league. Troy, Jacksonville, UAB (which resumes competition in 2017), South Alabama, North Alabama, West Alabama, Samford, Alabama State, and Alabama A&M would be a solid group. That would give each team eight conference games at little travel expense for teams and fans and excellent opportunities to develop strong rivalries.


That would leave them room to have a so-called money game, such as South Alabama playing at LSU, and then a handful of game against regional competition -- Southern Miss, UT-Chattanooga, etc.


For many years, Alabama has maintained a stance that may need re-examination. Although Crimson Tide teams in many sports compete against the other schools in the state, Bama has not been willing to schedule football or men’s basketball games against these schools.


The minus, of course, is an embarrassing loss, as Auburn nearly suffered last year to Jacksonville State. Some don’t want to give those schools anything that might enable them to get a recruit that Alabama also wants. Many would maintain that if either outcome is a risk for Alabama, then there are much greater problems.


Because Alabama (and far too many other major college teams) are going to schedule the cupcakes, such as Chattanooga, Charleston Southern, Georgia State, Georgia Southern (the tin horn citation notwithstanding), why not keep that $1 million or so payout in the state?


Additionally, how could it not help but raise enthusiasm for football at every level in the state, something for which Bama Coach Nick Saban professes support?


There certainly should be competition in basketball. One proposal we made several years ago was to revive a long-ago December basketball tournament that was held in Birmingham. Both Alabama and Auburn participated in two days of games, though not playing one another. That same format could have the likes of Alabama, Auburn, UAB, and South Alabama (for instance) with Alabama playing UAB and Auburn vs. South Alabama on the first night, then Alabama-USA, Auburn-UAB the second.


The next year it might be Alabama, Auburn, Troy, and Jacksonville, and so on.


It’s something to think about.

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