CECIL HURT: Time is right to discuss Alabama football schedule upgrade


Nothing — well, nothing except a quarterback’s finger/thumb/hand injury — so almost nothing sparks the fires of offseason football conversation more than scheduling speculation.

So The Tuscaloosa News’ exclusive report about Alabama speaking with other members of the elite all-time-wins club in college football, Notre Dame and Texas, about a possible home-and-home series with one, or perhaps both, ignited a fair share of conversation on social media, with its usual gamut of opinion ranging from intelligent musing to out-and-out trolling.

The time for such discussions has come.

Perhaps it should have come sooner, but the neutral-site model Alabama has used for most of the past decade has been competitively and financially successful and when you (a.) don’t lose any games and (b.) cash large checks, it’s understandable when an athletic department moves cautiously before shaking things up.

On the other hand, season ticket sales, skybox licenses and all the other “donation” levels — some of which may be impacted by new tax laws — are also an issue. This year’s home schedule includes nonconference games against Arkansas State, UL-Lafayette and The Citadel as well as Texas A&M, Missouri, Mississippi State and Auburn in SEC play. There have been worse home slates, but one still feels there should be a little more beef in the stew.

So it makes sense for Alabama to be talking with Texas and Notre Dame, and perhaps with some other Power Five schools as well, if only on a perfunctory basis. “Talking” is not the same as “signing a contract.” But given the timeframe on which football scheduling operates, if you don’t talk now, you won’t get a series started before 2030. Alabama would like something to happen sooner, although it won’t be immediate. Neutral site games are already booked for 2018 (Louisville in Orlando) and 2019 (Duke in Atlanta) and there have been discussions about a return to Dallas in 2020.

If it is 2025 before Alabama actually hosts a heavyweight nonconference opponent in Bryant-Denny Stadium, who knows what the landscape of college football will be. Crimson Tide fans would love to believe the current run will last forever, that Nick Saban will coach until he is 99. He certainly seems to have the energy, and might be intrigued by going for 600 career wins. Even if there is a slight swing of the pendulum, history says Alabama will still be elite, one of the most powerful “brands,” to use the new buzzword, in all of sports, college or professional.

I understand the argument “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The neutral site model has been good for Alabama, as good as the gold on the College Football Playoff trophy. It’s possible the playoff will be different in six or seven years as well. I’m not an advocate of expansion — the season is long enough with a simple two-game playoff, especially for teams that also play in a conference championship game. An eight-team field would diminish the risk of losing an early-season marquee game.

The best reason for big-time on-campus football has to be felt to be appreciated. Yes, Alabama plays big games at home and on the road every year. It’s special when Auburn or LSU takes the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium, just as it is when the Crimson Tide rolls into Knoxville or Athens. But there’s something different when it’s South Bend or Norman or State College — and it’s good that Alabama is talking about it again.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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