OPINION: No question Alabama and Auburn should be playing in-state schools

Published 1:32 pm Wednesday, April 5, 2023

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The State of Alabama has a grand total of five FBS football programs and numerous FCS, Division II, etc. programs in the state. Despite that, the schools biggest programs rarely – if ever – play any of those teams.

At the surface, especially for FCS teams, that means a ton of money is leaving the state when Alabama and Auburn bring in out-of-state programs for games. Alabama and Auburn play big money to FCS programs for games – Austin Peay received $600,000 to play in Tuscaloosa last season for example. For FCS programs, those types payouts help sustain the entire athletic department.

The belief that Alabama and Auburn should be playing Troy and UAB regularly is a talking point that has been discussed over and over my whole life but this week that fire had a bit of gasoline tossed on it when first-year Auburn coach Hugh Freeze suggested that his team and Alabama should be playing Troy and UAB for spring games instead of having intrasquad scrimmages.

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High school football teams are allowed to play spring games against other schools and even hold organized team activities (OTAs) and 7-on-7 competitions with other schools during the summer, just as the NFL does. Why college football still doesn’t allow it is beyond me. Thankfully, the NCAA passed a rule recently that will allow Division II teams to play scrimmages against other teams during the spring beginning in 2024. Hopefully with the discussion Freeze’s recent comments spurred on, that same rule will be passed – and expanded – for Division I.

While I agree with the spring game thought, and it’s a good first step, it definitely should be just the beginning. In the history of Troy Football, the school has played Alabama zero times and Auburn’s varsity team zero times. Troy played the Auburn freshmen squad and the junior varsity team in the 1920s and 1930s but that’s it. How many times has UAB played Alabama or Auburn? Once combined. How about South Alabama? That’s yet another zero.

In fact, Alabama hasn’t played a single in-state school outside of Auburn since the 1940s. While Auburn has played UAB just once, it does have a game scheduled with South Alabama in 2025 and has played in-state FCS schools like Jacksonville State and Alabama State in recent years.

Now, I have no problem telling you that I’m a born and raised Alabama fan. Some of my earliest memories are of watching Alabama Football sitting on my dad’s lap as a very young child. I idolized Shaun Alexander and Derrick Thomas growing up. Still, my whole life I wondered why wouldn’t Alabama play these in-state schools? In recent years, Nick Saban has expressed a desire to host HBCU programs in the future but no mention of Troy.

There are numerous excuses that can be made for the refusal to schedule in-state FBS programs. The one I’ve heard expressed most during my life – mainly from fans – is that it’s a no-win situation for Alabama and Auburn. If you beat up on the smaller, Group of 5 teams, you were supposed to. If you play poorly – or get beat – you become the laughing stock of the SEC.

Is that even the case anymore, though? How many times does Troy have to become a “giant killer” before that trope dies itself? LSU, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Mississippi State have all fallen to the Trojans since the move to FBS.

Part of that excuse is the thought that losing to a smaller in-state school would “damage the brand” of Alabama or Auburn. That has to be one of the bigger jokes of an excuse. Those programs are juggernauts, and let’s be honest, have lost to programs with much less history and tradition than Troy in years past. Losing to Troy, or UAB or South Alabama for that matter, would certainly help those smaller programs in terms of recruiting and name recognition, but it’s not going to damage college powerhouses.

With how far football schedules are planned ahead of time, scheduling conflicts could be a decent excuse but still one I don’t buy. I can assure you Troy, South Alabama and UAB would do everything in their power to make whatever open date Alabama or Auburn had for any year work.

If major colleges and coaches – like Saban – push back against discussion of things like banning Power 5 schools from scheduling FCS programs, because of the damage it would cause to those FCS programs, then why is there no thought put into the benefit it would have on in-state programs, including smaller FBS schools?

While Bryant-Denny Stadium and Jordan-Hare Stadium are jam packed the majority of Saturdays in the fall, when New Mexico State or Chattanooga come to town, no one could honestly make the argument that will be an easier ticket sale than if Troy, UAB or USA are coming to Tuscaloosa or Auburn. To even suggest otherwise would be a joke.

That’s not to even mention the type of impact it would have on schools like Troy. Can you just imagine the type of crowd – and atmosphere – a September matchup between Troy and Alabama would have in Veterans Memorial Stadium? That’s not just a financial increase either, it would benefit recruiting, as well. So, I have to wonder if it’s more about not wanting these in-state schools to benefit from games like that than it is about possibly “damaging” the bigger schools?

At the very least, a series of spring games against one another could be a great start to something that would be nothing but a benefit for the state.