A week or so ago, we linked to a post over at Eight in the Box where they threw out a few ideas on how to get Alabama Basketball over the proverbial hump and into the minds and passions of Crimson Tide fans. While no one would ever be foolish enough to suggest that basketball might replace football as the number one sport at Alabama, we fans have a tendency to expect nothing but excellence from any team in Crimson and White (especially the revenue sports), and if the basketball program could find some way to generate half the passion and loyalty that the football team does it might finally become a little bit more to Crimson Tide fans than something to fret over between the end of bowl season and the start of spring practice.
Of his suggestions, a big name out of conference rivalry is the most interesting, and his suggestions are excellent ones, though their practicality is somewhat iffy. He nominated five candidates: Memphis, Texas, Duke, Louisville, and Georgetown, while there was also mention of playing two games a season with UAB.
On UAB, I would have to disagree. Full disclosure, I graduated from UAB. I'm sure someone reading this is smugly thinking I chose UAB because I couldn't/didn't get into Alabama, but I was, in fact accepted to Alabama and chose to remain in Birmingham because, well, I just plain love it here and have no intentions of ever leaving. Second shocking revelation: Samford was actually my second choice (and I applied and was accepted there, too, but didn't much feel like going to college across the street from my high school). Anyway, besides the awkward discomfort of having to choose who to pull for if the two teams were to start a regular rivalry game, I just think it would be a bad idea for Alabama. Although UAB has some "name" status as a basketball school, it seems to me that it would be nothing but a lose/lose situation for the Tide. Alabama fans generally hold UAB in the same regard as A&M or State and wouldn't likely fill Coleman for a visit from the Blazers (though Bartow would probably be overrun by local Alabama fans, including the guy that goes to every UAB game in a houndstooth hat. Seriously, man, that's just idiotic.). Further, continuing to ignore the "name" status of UAB basketball, a loss to UAB would be more embarassing for Alabama than a loss to traditional rivals Auburn, UT, or Arkansas, while a win for the Tide would be greeted with a "What, you want a cookie?" attitude by those who consider a win over the lowly Blazers a foregone conclusion. The series, at least in my mind, would garner far more excitement and attention for UAB than it would for Alabama and give UAB fans more reason to hate/despise Alabama than Tide fans a reason to hate/despise the Blazers. In other words, Alabama would be starting a one sided rivalry benefitting the wrong team.
So UAB is out. As far as his other suggestions go, I like the idea of a regular series with both Memphis and Duke. They both have great credibility as a basketball school and a coach that everyone loves to hate. Further, Alabama could use the football angle in securing basketball games. We are already in the midst of a series with Duke, and Memphis is a sorta respectable mid-major that already plays fellow SEC member Ole Miss each year. Their basketball programs help ours get exposure while our football program helps theirs, well, get paid to take a whipping. It's a win-win!
If only we can find a way to make this a win-win-win situation...
I also went so far as to suggest a regular rivalry with Georgia Tech in his comments section. Though we'll probably never see them on the gridiron as frequently as I would like, a basketball rivalry between the two would certainly create some buzz (no pun intended) with both the fans and the media and possibly rekindle a rivalry nature that will make "send the Yellowjackets to a watery grave" mean something again.
But of course, all of this is meaningless if the coaches and the team don't start living up to their potential. I'm reminded of something I wrote about the UAB football team on my old blog in response to former HC Watson Brown's desire to get return visits from BCS teams in order to get the Blazers on the map:
I fully believe the same thing applies to the current situation with Alabama basketball. Alchemist came back today with some fancy charts and numbers concerning attendance and fan effort. He posits that the first step towards building the program into a national competitor is for Tide fans to fill the arena and make Alabama basketball an event. Again, I have to disagree. Would you and your friends routinely fill a movie theater for a director who's work is only so so in the hopes that, if you keep showing up and complaining that "it's good, but it could be better," he'll start to improve his product? No, you wouldn't. It's not up to the fans to make Alabama basketball an event, it's up to Alabama basketball to give the fans a reason to view it as one. Improved scheduling is certainly one step in that direction, but until the fans can reasonably expect an exciting game instead of watching their team stumble in humiliating fashion for 40 minutes, it's not going to do any good. Give us something to be excited about, and we'll get excited. Expect us to show up when we're afraid of what we'll find and you get what we are witnessing now.
In my mind, the first step towards generating excitement about the program has nothing to do with the fans, but with the coaches getting their team to be more than just "competitive" in the conference/division. Start winning your conference games, or at the very least stop getting blown out in your conference road games, and start giving your fans something to look forward to once football is over. I think you'll find that wins over familiar opponents like Auburn and Arkansas will translate into excitement about the prospect of wins over all the opponents, and better attendance and focus from the fanbase.
The football team has been successful in no small part to the incredible support from the fans, but that support is built on a certain faith that the team will repay all that time and passion and hope poured into it with victory, or at the very least effort. We saw Mike Shula dismissed because he couldn't deliver either, and Nick Saban hired because he already has. But we aren't seeing that with the basketball program, and until it can show the fans that it's worthy of their support and passion it will remain simply a mild diversion during the offseason.