Alabama Athletics Director Greg Byrne is a young 48 years old, a tall 6’6”, and media and technologically savvy. He is among the new wave of ADs who lack coaching experience, instead taking the administrative path, and have more business acumen needed to run the multi million dollar enterprises that are sports at major colleges. Byrne embraces social media and uses it to stay in touch with students and fans of the University. It is not unusual to find him giving tickets or swag away on Twitter, or setting up lunch meetings in his office with random responders to his posts. Byrne is known for going through the stands at games to greet fans, especially at away games. In that vein, Byrne along with radio host Chris Stewart held a Zoom Town Hall Meeting on Thursday night for Tide Pride members.
I was one of the 1,000 or so people that joined in on the call this week. Participants were able to send in questions ahead of time, or type in questions during the session. There was not a lot of new information, or absolutes, brought forward, but it was great to have access and hear Byrne’s ideas.
Stewart began the call welcoming everyone and introducing Byrne, who in turn introduced his wife, Regina (@RollTideMamma on Twitter). After a few minutes of talk about how everyone is handling quarantine, Byrne began to talk about the possibility of a fall football season. Byrne said at this point they are planning on games being played on schedule with a full stadium of fans. However, he also mentioned having a Plan B, C, D, E, F..., with plans for half the fans, a third of the fans, a fourth of the fans, all the way to no fans in the stands. Also the possibility of pushing the season back was briefly touched on.
Byrne brought up that fans might be asked, or possibly required, to wear masks, then talked about the picture that is circulating of a 1918 Georgia Tech game played during the Spainish flu pandemic that had all fans wearing masks. When pushed on the plan if not everyone is allowed in Byrne said we are working on that, but we aren't ready to talk about that quite yet, but that it might be that a season ticket holder might not be able to attend all games if it came to that.
Some bullet points:
- Bryant Denny Construction is on schedule
- Mal Moore remodel is on schedule
- Science center is on schedule
- BDS won't have as many elevators as fans have requested, as they are $1 million per unit
- Over 90% of the new premium seats in BDS have been sold. All 10 Founders Suites have been sold at 5 million per
- Terrace Club and Loge Boxes are all sold
- The other two new premium areas, including the Champions Club, are 75-80% sold
- If there isn't a football season, or if there is a shortened version, ticket and Tide Pride payments will be refunded
- Drop dead date fall football appears to be late June or first week of July
- In six of seven weeks well will no more than we do now
- Byrne said he very much wants to eventually retire from the University of Alabama
Byrne reiterated that the money raised by the seat sales and The Crimson Standard is necessary for upgrades to Rhodes Stadium, The Science Center, and all other projects. Byrne said that these things are being done for the benefit to the student athletes, who remain the most important people to him.
When questioned about Coleman Coliseum, and when the improvements would begin, Byrne again mentioned that the BDS money that the new seating brings in is totally necessary to be able to go to Phase II to make the Coleman project work. The AD said that basketball revenue is not enough to pay for the Coleman work, and that the Crimson Standard funds and plans for them “are fluid”. The way I understood what Byrne said, and I have reached out and found agreement on this, is different than what Mike Rodak wrote for AL.COM. Rodak interrupted that Byrne left open the possibility of a “new arena”. I didn't hear it that way personally, my take was that the refurbishing of Coleman was the most fiscally responsibly way to go. Byrne also said that the work most likely would not begin within the next 12 months.
A question came in about the proposed bridge over the railroad tracks behind Coleman. Byrne answered that the fence around the construction area has been put up, but he wasn't sure about the timeline for the construction. He then mentioned that during the building of the bridge that the Coleman lot would temporarily lose about 350 parking places, but would gain back about 150 of those when the bridge was finished.
Byrne touched on the Apple Watch controversy saying that he and coach Nick Saban had discussed this at length and that the watches were purely being used for the health and welfare of the student athletes. Byrne said he talks with Saban several times a week, and they discussed what the coaches can do for the athletes at this point. Chalk talk, better know as instruction, as been upgraded from four hours a week allowable to eight hours allowable per week.
Byrne then answered questions that Stewart had received from the audience and said that the SEC Softball and Women's Tennis Tournament both will be in Tuscaloosa in 2021 after missing out on hosting this year. The athletic department budge has been frozen, there are no plans to cut any sports or scholarships, and the senior athletes that are allowed to come back will cost 1 million dollars for their extra year.
When asked how his work day has changed, Byrne said that there is an Executive Committee within the athletic department with seven members, and they meet by Zoom every day. Byrne tries to talk to coaches in all sports at least a couple of times a week, and Administrative staff meets every other week. One of his coaches asked about having a All Staff meeting which they did. Byrne became very emotional, to the point of tears, when talking about seeing everyone (via Zoom, of course) for the first time.
Byrne finished up by saying that, by all indications, all University athletes are safe and healthy at this point in time. He said that people are resilient and will adapt, mentioning the change from purses to clear bags at all sporting events over the last several years. Byrne than again talked about how much he looks forward to being able to go into the stands to greet and thank fans for their support. I can attest to this, there has not been any occasion when he has seen me at a baseball or basketball game that he didn't stop by for one of his patented fist bumps and a few nice words. In closing ,Byrne challenged everyone to serve people, be it family, friends, or others to call someone everyday that has meant something to you over the years, such as a friend, coach, or teacher.
All in all the call was a welcome distraction from the doldrums of no sports going on at the time. Byrne genuinely seems to care about the student athletes, coaches, fans, and supporters and is as transparent as you can be in the position he is in.
Believe In The Process