For the second straight year, Alabama Coach Nick Saban took the school’s students to task for leaving a football game early.
“So, everybody’s got to make a sacrifice. You want to be the lion? Everybody got to do something. Everybody wants to be number one. If I asked that whole student section, do you want to be number one? Nobody would hold their hand up and say I want to be number four. They would all say number one. But are they willing to do everything to be number one? That’s another question. You can ask them that.
“I don’t know the answer.”
To be fair to the students, the game was well out of hand by they time they started to depart, and Alabama ended up winning, 62-10. And it’s not like the students were the only ones who apparently had something better to do.
It also was hot, about 95 degrees for kickoff at 3 p.m. local time, and it figures to be similarly warm for Alabama’s next home game on Sept. 21 against Southern Mississippi. On Monday, the SEC announced an 11 a.m. kickoff time for that game, eliciting an unprecedented joint statement from school president Stuart Bell and Athletic Director Greg Byrne.
“We are disappointed that our home game against Southern Miss has been selected as a daytime kickoff at home,” they wrote. “We realize we’ve played more nonconference day games at home in September than any other SEC team since 2014. There have been a number of conversations with our conference office, and they also recognize the challenges these kick times present for our student-athletes and fans.”
As explained by AL.com’s Michael Casagrande, each weekend’s scheduling decisions are made out of the public’s eye. CBS gets the first choice of SEC games, and on Sept. 21 it will have a doubleheader featuring Auburn and Texas A&M in the afternoon and Georgia and Notre Dame in prime time. After that, the conference’s remaining games are split up by ESPN, which also operates the SEC Network. Because CBS has near-exclusive rights to the time slots in which it broadcasts SEC games, most of the conference games that day will kick off at 11 a.m. Alabama time.
Alabama’s complaints did not go over well with observers, who point out the program’s habit of scheduling mostly cupcake foes to fill out its nonconference schedule and its reticence to hit the road for a true away game. Here’s the list of nonconference games Alabama has played on the road since Saban’s arrival in 2007:
— Alabama at Duke, 9/18/10 (a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, for what it’s worth).
— Alabama at Penn State, 9/10/11 (another 3:30 p.m. kickoff)
That’s it, that’s the list. True, Alabama usually schedules a neutral-site game against a Power 5 foe each season, and those games get prime time placement on the TV schedule. They’re also usually played in domes, where the heat isn’t a factor, and a return game in Tuscaloosa isn’t ever part of the deal.
“We try to schedule the best teams that we can schedule, and we’re trying to do that in the future, as well,” Saban said after Saturday’s New Mexico State game. “But we can only play the people who are willing to play us, all right. I’ve said my opinion about 12 Power 5 schools — that’s what I would rather do. But other people don’t agree with that. I’d rather play 10 SEC games and then play two other Power 5 schools so all the games are exciting for the fans, all the games are good football.
“You wouldn’t have to go undefeated to get in the playoffs because you’d play a more quality schedule. I’ve been through and covered that road a hundred times. So, do I think we can get better in games like this? I do. If you approach the game right and you practice the right way and you prepare and have the right focus and you play to your standard, you can get better playing anybody.”
CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli compiled a list of games Alabama has had to play at 11 a.m. local time since the SEC Network was launched in 2014. The opponents: Florida Atlantic, Kent State, Mississippi State, Mercer, Louisiana, Arkansas, The Citadel and now Southern Miss. They’ve also played Arkansas State, Fresno State, Colorado State, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe at home in September over that span.
Apart from the two SEC opponents, that isn’t exactly a list of teams that are going to get ESPN’s or CBS’s scheduling department all worked up. And considering Alabama received $46.1 million from its media-rights deals in 2018, $22.6 million of it directly attributed to football, the networks probably are going to schedule the Crimson Tide’s cupcake games whenever they please.