Save The All-Star Game

The Alabama-Mississippi classic (which will be played in Mobile Saturday night) has been a staple of Southern football nuts' summer calendars for going-on two decades. But it could be on the verge of losing its relevance, particularly if the recent trend of defections continues in the next several years.

The past few weeks, it seemed like each day brought a new defection from the Alabama-Mississippi High School All-Star Classic. Daphne athlete Patrick White. Cullman lineman Justin Britt. Briarwood Christian cornerback Simeon Castille. Hoover quarterback John Parker Wilson.

The list goes on: Randolph County wide receiver Ezekial Knight. Hoover defensive lineman Jeramie Holifield. Prattville defensive lineman Kevin Hamilton. Hartselle wideout Nikita Stover.

It's almost as bad as the cadre of players who annually beg out of the NFL's postseason Pro Bowl.

I come here today with a solution: flip the format.

It was recently announced that the annual North-South game will be moved from July to December next year and invite rising seniors instead of graduated seniors.

That's a wise decision: rising seniors will be far more interested in this game than they would be a few months later, when they have obligations to college coaches and pre-college training regimens to follow.

But it could be made wiser.

My idea? Keep the North-South game in July and invite players who are heading into their senior seasons of football. It'd be the perfect opportunity for them to display their talents for college coaches in a game setting rather than a test-laden combine that displays no actual game-tested skills.

That frees up December for the Alabama-Mississippi game, which can be populated with graduating seniors (some of whom could have played in the North-South game months earlier).

By then, some of the players will have orally committed to colleges, but a vast majority will still be pondering their choices.

The Alabama-Mississippi game would be a perfect addition to what has become a winter football festival in the Mobile area, joining the successful GMAC Bowl in late December and the popular Senior Bowl in mid-January.

Moving the game to December would also all but eliminate college coaches' influence on the game. Whether they say so publicly or not, by May graduated seniors are more worried about getting ready for college than playing an all-star game.

Several players in recent years have ripped up knees or seriously injured themselves in all-star practices and games; just this week a Mississippi lineman had to withdraw after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament during practice.

Justin Britt, an Alabama signee, announced that he was skipping the game to attend his Cullman High School graduation. That's a perfectly legitimate–and honorable–decision.

But one has to wonder if his brother Wesley's ugly broken leg last fall crossed his mind.

At least Wesley broke his leg against Tennessee; tearing up a knee or breaking your ankle just doesn't seem quite worth it when it comes in a meaningless all-star game.

Moving the game to December would also eliminate pro baseball's influence; White and Wilson are skipping the game to protect their baseball stock with the draft only a week away. Future pro prospects would be less inclined to do so.

A date change would also keep potential academic casualties–like Hamilton, Holifield, Knight and Stover–in play for the Classic.

Furthermore, a move would give college coaches a different perspective on the game. A December all-star game would immediately become a must-stop for every college recruiter in the Southeast and beyond, as long as the game was played outside of an NCAA-mandated dead period on recruiting.

Lately, some criticism has been fired at Alabama Coach Mike Shula for potentially influencing prospects' decision to play in the game. By the way, he says he leaves the call to players and their parents, and I believe him. After all, 10 Alabama signees are still expected to play Saturday, with Tide signee Aaron McDaniel of Fort Payne a late addition. If Shula really is flexing his muscles on the players in this case, he needs to hit the weight room.

Playing the game in December would eliminate most future criticism on players and college coaches like Shula.

When one considers all the potential benefits, moving the game makes way too much sense. In this football-crazy state, it'd be the perfect move.

Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com


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