A L.com columnist Kevin Scarbinsky is right about the sad state of basketball in Alabama. This state once produced winners on the hardwood with coaches like C.M. Newton, Wimp Sanderson, Sonny Smith and Gene Bartow.
However, Scarbinsky identifies success in football as a reason for our hoops malaise.
According to Scarbinsky, “It’s never been easy to coach basketball here, and the unprecedented run of three straight football national titles has made it harder than ever. The more football dominates the headlines, the more in-state basketball talent wants to escape that shadow, and the less out-of-state talent wants to step into it.”
This is wrong. While it could be an issue, Florida hasn’t suffered from the same problems of sustaining a basketball program while winning national titles. We should instead focus on what got us into this mess.
It is easy to point the finger at football, but that is too easy. There was a bigger problem at Alabama, Auburn and UAB.
The problem was leadership.
It was poor leadership at Alabama and Auburn that failed to oversee their respective basketball programs with as much energy as their football programs. From an Alabama perspective, the University was without a plan and didn’t really care when Coach Sanderson was shown the door for his indiscretions. A successful Alabama basketball program withered through fatal inattention—inattention from administrators who were focused on football and fans who needed a strong personality like Sanderson to anchor the program.
UAB’s basketball problem follows the same issue—leadership. However, UAB’s leadership became obsessed with launching a football team. It is no surprise that UAB’s greatest days of basketball came when the school was basketball only. Jealousy and inferiority pushed UAB to start a football program and through wasted resources and burned bridges, the school weakened its basketball team.
While football played a role in the downfall, it was not the culprit. The culprits were the leaders who let the programs slide into such a state. The culprits were leaders like the ones at UAB who wasted millions of dollars chasing a gridiron dream when those dollars would have been better spent on the already successful basketball program.