Shots Taken at Bama Are Indefensible

Alabama must be wondering what it did to deserve all the attention it's been getting in the past few weeks.

No, we're not talking about criticism over its on-field play. We're talking about potshots from sportswriters who are under the impression they are channeling Jim Murray.

Murray, the late Los Angeles sportswriter, was known for his poison pen. But Murray's venom came, at least in part, from a social conscience. Murray also had something called talent, a trait in question among some of Alabama's regular detractors.

Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News didn't fire the first shot at Alabama, but he fired a misguided one against the school and one of its trustees, Paul Bryant Jr., in a column last week. Scarbinsky took a statement from Bryant about holding UAB football accountable for its financial performance and then crafted a column around how Bryant is hurting the UAB program, then suggesting it was The University of Alabama's responsibility to see that it didn't happen.

For starters, Bryant's comments were taken out of context. Secondly, Bryant is a University of Alabama system trustee. His job is to make sure the system does the best job it can do with the limited amount of money it gets from the state of Alabama, which is financially strapped.

Most importantly, it's not up to Alabama to build anyone else's program but its own.

UAB football is having some on-field success this year, but the fact of the matter is that the Blazer program has been a financial strain on the UA system for years. UAB game attendance is horrid, despite attendance figures sometimes inflated by counting ticket giveaway programs. Even on Friday night, when UAB was beating TCU handily in arguably the biggest game so far in the program's history, Legion Field looked like it was hosting the Super Six and not a big-time college game. The solution, according to ESPN broadcasters? UAB needs a domed stadium, even though taxpayers have said no to the idea.

The uncomfortable reality for UAB is that few people really care about the program, and hardly any of those people live outside the Birmingham Metro area. UAB rose too quickly to Division-IA status and didn't take enough time to properly develop a fan base. Along the way, the Blazers blazed a trail of financial ink so deep and red that the UA system trustees finally said enough was enough.

And now, The University of Alabama should feel guilty? No way.

In case no one has noticed, Alabama has problems of its own. Restricted in funding the same way other state schools are, Alabama is trying to build new dormitories, finish construction on academic buildings, get long-due raises for its faculty and staff, while at the same time raising money through the Crimson Tradition campaign for badly-needed improvements to its own facilities. Quite frankly, Alabama can't be bothered with the additional task of trying to build a program 50 miles up the road, especially one that it could find itself going against for recruits.

The truth – uncomfortable though it may be, but truth nonetheless – is that big-time college football is a business. Millions are at stake, and any advantage one school can have over others is critical. It might be a good thing for the city of Birmingham or the sportswriters that cover UAB football for UAB to be strong, but it isn't good for Alabama. If UAB wants to play Division-IA football, the Blazers need to learn how to do it on their own. This isn't elementary school four-square. Not everyone is entitled to their own turn.

Contrast UAB with Troy, which built slowly from the ground up, didn't hound Alabama or Auburn for charity, and now looks like it could win the Sun Belt conference. Alabama obviously noticed, because Troy's athletic director, Johnny Williams, is being interviewed for a job opening in the athletic department at Alabama.

But that's apparently irrelevant to Scarbinksy. All that matters is that Alabama be forced to take on the responsibility of building up its competitors, no matter the cost to taxpayers. If Birmingham residents want to support UAB football, they should buy season tickets; otherwise, the state can make much better use of the money that currently funds it.

There's also the question of a program's free will. Why should the trustees, a state actor, be given the authority to dictate to Alabama who to schedule and who not to schedule? What other university in any state is subject to this type of thinking? And if Alabama is made to schedule UAB, why not Auburn as well? Perhaps Auburn isn't "big enough" to pull another team into prominence; who knows.

Scarbinsky isn't the only one enjoying kicking Alabama while it is down. ESPN broadcasters talked of how Alabama was the third- or fourth-best team in the state, behind UAB and Troy, a silly comment if there ever was one. CBS Sportsline's Dennis Dodd, presumably a national sportswriter paid to objectively cover college football, enjoys getting his rocks off on a regular basis by openly taunting Alabama fans in his column. Sports Illustrated's Michael Bradley took his shot at the Tide this week recalling the last time Navy defeated Notre Dame – "The last time the Mids won, back in '63, Alabama was a national powerhouse," wrote Bradley. I'd mention Paul Finebaum in this group, but Finebaum has been playing these same cards so long that his picture is printed on the deck.

In the end, it won't matter. Alabama's trustees know the backlash they'd get if they tried something as obnoxiously stupid as forcing the Crimson Tide to play the Blazers. The system chancellor, Dr. Malcolm Portera, wouldn't be likely to sign off on the plan, either.

At some point in the next year or two, Alabama is going to reassume its position among the top teams in the Southeastern Conference. At some point in the next four or five years, Alabama is going to start competing for championships again. When it happens, the sophomoric potshots, the loopy UAB logic and the act of throwing of sticks and stones at Alabama is going to be as ignorable as rain is to a duck.

But that's what Alabama has to put up with each year. When you're one of the nation's elite programs, it comes with the territory.


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