Should you root against Alabama? Only if you believe the Tide's dominance is killing the SEC
I was listening to a local sports talk station yesterday when a host read a listener’s tweet: “Rooting for Alabama because they’re in the SEC is like rooting for the Devil because he’s in the Bible.” The host chuckled and moved on, but the topic stuck with me.
Is Alabama bad for the rest of the SEC?
It seems that Alabama is probably good for college football as a whole. The Tide are, of course, a storied program, one with a broad following which is rarely approached in the sport. Needless to say, reeling off a decade of dominance like Alabama has is certainly good for its brand.
And for the Tide-haters, it’s good to have a convincing Goliath at whom the world of Davids can throw stones. College football is much different than college basketball, in that the story isn’t going to focus on Western Michigan pulling off a massive upset in a mid-tier bowl. The powers provide the narrative, and Alabama has certainly been a power.
But with the Tide gunning for a fifth national championship in the past eight seasons, is Alabama’s run good for the rest of the SEC? Or, if you’re a fan of Auburn or LSU, Tennessee or Florida, is cheering on the Tide akin to rooting for the Devil? Possibly so.
There can be little debate that Alabama’s success has further warped crazed expectations. If the Tide can compete for the national title every season, why not my team, wonder most SEC fan bases. And those expectations have shortened (and intensified) the normal college football coach’s lifespan.
Take Auburn. Gene Chizik inherited a losing team, posted an 8-5 first season, and in his second season, actually beat Bama and won the national title (Auburn’s second) in 2010. Two years later, he was gone.
Never mind that even with a disappointing 2012 campaign, Chizik’s coaching record is similar to many of the storied names of Auburn’s past like Pat Dye, Terry Bowden or Shug Jordan. In the wake of Alabama, the question is “What have you done for me lately?” And by lately, we mean right this minute.
Chizik’s successor, Gus Malzahn, got the Tigers back to the national title game, but after every loss, rumors swirl around his head as well. Malzahn’s winning percentage is better than Jordan’s, better than Tommy Tuberville’s, but he is almost reviled … because he’s not Nick Saban. Malzahn’s team finished tied for second in the SEC West in 2016 … but in the days of Saban, this is the Ricky Bobby SEC, where if you ain’t first, you’re last.
Just ask Les Miles. He initially had a fierce rivalry with Saban, winning the 2007 national title, and reaching the game again in 2011. But he lost to Saban in that 2011 title game (a rematch of the regular season game that Miles won), and watched Alabama shift to a higher gear and leave LSU playing for second place.
Four seasons followed with totals of ten, ten, eight, and nine wins. Not good enough. A 2-2 start to 2016 ended his tenure in Baton Rouge. Saban himself called it “sad” and blamed expectations, calling it “the time we live in.” You mean the time of Alabama, Nick?
Alabama’s success has also led to a belief that the SEC East is terrible. Certainly, the West has fared better in cross-division matchups, but the East’s biggest problem is that it can’t compete with Alabama. Otherwise, on a given Saturday, the East holds its own. Florida beat LSU, Georgia knocked off Auburn, etc., etc. But nobody from the East can compete with the Tide, so the logic suggests that the whole division must be terrible.
Furthermore, Alabama’s dominance hurts recruiting. With the SEC struggling to asserts its claim to supremacy as a league, many talented players either go to Alabama or instead seem to prefer having a possible road to the CFP Final Four which avoids Alabama — at Ohio State, USC, Michigan, Florida State, Clemson, etc.
At the present time, Alabama has verbal commitments from three of 247sports’s top eight prospects in the nation. The next highest rated SEC recruit? The No. 24 ranked player is committed to LSU. Other schools with commitments inside of those top 23 players? Florida State (including a Mississippi player), UCLA, Ohio State (including a Texas player and a Florida player), Michigan, Southern Cal, Clemson (featuring a player from Tennessee), Stanford (via a player from Georgia), and Iowa. Other SEC schools can’t keep top players home, in part because they don’t want to play in Alabama’s shadow.
At the end of the day, none of this might convince non-Alabama fans that they should leap on the Clemson bandwagon.
The league is still playing for a winning postseason record, and surrendering the national title to a local opponent (as we saw with Florida State over Auburn in 2014) isn’t a welcoming proposition.
But if the Tide is taken down, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the rest of the league. Maybe fan bases and ADs would realize that all coaches, even Nick Saban, are mere mortals.
Maybe recruiting would even out, and maybe the East wouldn’t look like an annual pushover for Alabama, I mean, the SEC West. Rooting for Bama definitely isn’t on par with rooting for the Devil, as the talk show tweet had suggested. But rooting against them might not be so crazy either.