“Well, we had to play somebody.”
-- Nick Saban, University of Alabama head football coach, on this Saturday’s game with Chattanooga
-- Russ Huesman, Chattanooga head football coach, in answer to an ESPN question on what Alabama should focus on when they look at his team
In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association approved the addition of a twelfth game to college football’s regular season. There were many reasons for this move: added programming for national broadcasting partners, increased ticket revenue for home stadia, an extra chance at bowl eligibility and bowl payouts for borderline teams.
Which is a long way of saying, “for the money.”
Of course, the NCAA, being the NCAA, said it was about anything but the money, which leaves us with the ineffable puzzles of late-season match-ups like Ohio State and New Mexico State, Florida and Florida International, and, of our concern, Alabama and Chattanooga.
Critics will decry the existence of these games, pillorying the athletic directors for scheduling such opponents or, at best, dismissing them as “tune-up” games. Were it not for the twelfth-game rule, Alabama’s final home game, its Senior Day, would have been against LSU, leading some fans to suggest this game exists only to provide the outgoing class with a certain win.
I humbly remind those fans that, although Alabama should not guarantee wins beforehand, nor should it concede contests either.
During his weekly radio address, the Great Leader admonished the faithful that these games may be forgotten once they are won, but will be remembered for a lifetime if lost. He then gave an unneeded reminder of Alabama’s last home loss to an out-of-conference opponent on Senior Day.
It is said that Coach Bryant, whenever he noticed his players dragging during warm-ups or showing the signs of wear that accompany the playing of football, would say, among other things, “Men, sometimes you get tired and think nobody cares, but you don’t have any idea how many people wake up this morning with one thing on their mind and one thing only, the Crimson Tide is playing today.”
But certainly against an opponent like Chattanooga, the cost in competition leads to a benefit in access. For example, I look forward to a substantial upgrade in my seating preferences in tomorrow’s game.
That benefit extends even onto the playing field. For no matter how overmatched the Chattanooga defense is, not every pass will land in the end zone nor play yield a score. No matter how high Mark Ingram is held in our esteem or perhaps, perhaps and probably, in the esteem of the Downtown Athletic Club of Manhattan, not every carry he takes will end untouched.
Meaning that even now, some young man from Chattanooga with little hope for victory is thinking that, if the cards fall correctly, he might claim the victory of the moment, thinking past tomorrow’s game and the next, past all his games remaining, to the day where he will tell his scoffing friends or co-workers in whatever trade he follows after football, “That’s right, the one who won the Heisman at Alabama. I tackled him once.”
How much money is that worth?