First, the good news: Alabama Baseball, now in its sixth year under Coach Brad Bohannon, is once again regarded highly as the preseason nears. The Crimson Tide check in at No. 20 overall in D1 Baseball’s preseason poll.
That is remarkable. There are 301 D1 teams in the nation, putting the Tide in the top 6.6% of all programs.
Now, for the bad news. That No. 20 ranking? It would put Alabama in the bottom half of the SEC — eight teams are in the D1 Top 25, and seven of them are above the Tide. As with last season, and the year before, and the year before that, the expectation that we must realistically have consists of the following: win games against nonconference opponents; win conference series that you are supposed to; steal a series or two; flirt with .500 SEC play; finish at .600 or so; get to Hoover; make a regional.
It is on this group of outcomes that we must measure Coach Bo’s record.
And, did you notice what’s not in there? Getting to Omaha. Hosting a regional. Great SEC record.
They are not in there, because frankly they are perhaps unrealistic goals for reasons wholly unrelated to coaching or the roster.
Because you see, not only is the SEC a meat grinder, but there are 301 D1 baseball teams, and just about all of them in major conferences receive fear more institutional resources than does the Crimson Tide. And that certainly holds true in the SEC, where Alabama is the poorest supported program in the entire conference.
Let’s take a look.
Long having been hamstrung, the Crimson Tide has been making a living under Coach Bo by doing far more with far less. There are several structural issues at the NCAA level, the administrative level, even with state law, that make those Omaha pennant dreams distant ones for now:
- Given the 11.7 scholarship rule, the lack of state education lottery has simply been brutal. Just five states do not have a lottery, and you will notice that the rest of our SEC brethren do so: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. Out of the gate, with the exception of Alabama and AU, all other schools have some help for student athletes
- Inability to use “border state reciprocal instate tuition.” For example: if your state borders Mississippi you can go to school there at instate rates, and their tuitions are already much lower than Alabama’s. This, coupled with lack of additional scholarship funding, leads to a lot of talented instate players both going to Ole Miss and MSU, and doing so far less more cheaply than they could by attending their home state flagship. Meanwhile, Arkansas reciprocates with NINE states, including states loaded with great baseball players like Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana! The athletic department at Alabama has no say in this matter. It is at the Presidential and Trustee level. If they allow the athletes lower tuition, they would have to allow any student from those states the same. The University isn’t going to stop the OOS Tuition gravy train.
- Lack of NIL funds for baseball. There are those of us that are trying but only so much we have been able to raise. Auburn is way ahead of Bama in this regard, particularly with basketball and baseball.
- It may not be the case that Alabama adminstration doesn’t care about baseball, it is still a revenue sport. But the lack of resources directed towards things like assistant coaches, additional partial scholarships and the like, does leave a sour taste. The feeling among many connected to the program is that so long as Bo runs a clean program and doesn’t totally tank, all is good in their eyes. It’s the same thinking we’ve seen with Gymnastics and both Men and Women’s Basketball from the Administration — hiring is done, thereafter they don’t worry about it, if the output is respectable and no one is (caught) cheating. This is very much the “dead girl, or live boy” political trope applied to college athletics.
For more on the structural issues facing the Crimson Tide and others similarly situated, check out Matt Ryan’s film, Uneven.
So, tip of the hat to Coach Bo and ‘Bama Baseball. But as a fan, enter this season with open eyes about what the loss of those opportunities mean. They translate to an extra 3-4 guys a year. That’s an extra arm in the bullpen, an in-state stud staying home to play for his childhood team on the mound, a few extra bats in close games. And if and when Alabama falls short in some contests, realize that they they are playing a very different game, with very different rules than literally anyone else in the conference.