Alabama fans will take any national championship they can get
By Hunter Ford
Alabama’s football program has been declared the recruiting national champions and Tide fans are all giddy about it.
As an Alabama fan myself, I am hopeful that Coach Nick Saban will improve on last season’s 7-6 record. But the majority of this year’s recruits will not make an impact until the ’09 or ’10 seasons. So, for fans to act like Alabama has really “won” anything by being declared the so-called “recruiting” national champion is really absurd.
Don’t get me wrong. It is a good sign that Saban has the Tide ship headed for a new horizon after being run aground by NCAA probation and a dizzying coaching carousel.
However, these blue-chip recruits still must prove themselves on the field. The stark reality facing Alabama is that it just came off of a disastrous ending to a regular season that saw the Tide lose its last four games. Those games included a loss to Louisiana-Monroe and a sixth consecutive loss to Auburn.
The bright spots of light shining on the Tide (the victory in the Independence Bowl and the recruiting success) shouldn’t become a glare that blinds Tide fans.
Alabama is still fighting for its life in the Western Division of the SEC to overtake cross-state rival Auburn and BCS National Champion LSU.
Auburn, despite its dysfunctional family situation, has completely dominated Alabama on the playing field. LSU may eventually revert back to mediocrity, but the Louisiana breed of Tigers still have plenty of fuel in their tank too.
Heck, Alabama still has to contend with Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State to be the THIRD best team in the West. Arkansas swapped Coach Houston Nutt for Bobby Petrino. Petrino did wonders at Louisville, and should be expected to perform well for the Razorbacks. Nutt is nutty, but crafty, and with him at Ole Miss, one should expect the Rebels fortunes to improve.
Mississippi State has beaten Alabama two years in a row. Sylvester Croom’s Bulldogs won the Alabama state championship by beating Alabama, Auburn and UAB last year. If the hype surrounding the Tide’s stellar recruiting class proves anything at this point it proves how little the rank-and-file fan base really care about any sport other than football. In relative terms all other sports have little meaning to the average fan. We are in the thick of college basketball season. Alabama’s team could be 23-0 and it would hardly matter.
The fact the Tide’s roundballers are mired in a pathetic season (13-11 overall and 2-7 in the SEC) underscores this point in its own way. Another school’s fan base, with any real interest in the success of basketball, would be burning a coach like Mark Gottfried at the stake right now. Just look at what happened to LSU’s coach, John Brady, if you need a reference. And keep up with how Kentucky fans will react if their cherished basketball team continues down the mediocre path its on right now.
Switching gears from Alabama’s situation, I’d like to reiterate an observation I’ve been making for years now. The basketball program at UAB is one of the Birmingham-Metro area’s most undervalued sports amenities.
Basketball in this state plays a weak second fiddle to the screaming electric guitar that is college football. But if you want to have a rocking good time, Bartow Arena is a great place to have one during the football off-season. In contrast to Alabama and Auburn basketball, where the respective teams play in half-full arenas, UAB creates a better atmosphere in cozier confines.
The Tide and Tigers continue to try in futility to get enough people in their oversized basketball gyms.
The UAB Blazers (16-7) are 11-0 this year at their on-campus Bartow Arena. Bartow seats about 8,000 and should be full to the rafters when top-ranked Memphis (23-0) comes to town on Feb. 16. UAB’s basketball program lost some valuable drawing power when Conference-USA lost Cincinnati, Louisville, DePaul and Marquette. However, with perennial powerhouse Memphis still in the league, the clash between UAB and Memphis is one of the best annual sporting events left in our area.