With the announcement of a three-game football series against South Florida — one that begins in Tampa in 2023, or fairly soon by the standards of future college scheduling — Alabama will once again find itself facing the judges who sit on the court of complaints.
More commonly, that’s known as the “AIN’T PLAYED NOBODY, PAWWLLLL!!!” scale, named after the distraught callers to Paul Finebaum’s radio show debating whether anyone actually has a hard schedule. One of the better college football podcasts is PAPN — “Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody.” One of the commonly-heard complaints about the Game of Thrones finale: “Bran Ain’t Played Nobody.” You get the idea. The notion is ubiquitous. The loudest debate nationally are about Alabama, in part because of the past decade, the Crimson Tide has lost the fewest games. There is a fairly significant and vocal segment of college football fans whose idea of a “fair” Alabama schedule is this. Nine SEC games instead of eight (a notion which Nick Saban supports) with all three crossover games against East Division opponents (the three most highly rated) on the road. Then, three non-conference games — also on the road and at least 1.000 miles from Tuscaloosa — against an opponent to be determined on the preceding Monday by that week’s BCS Rankings with the caveat that if Alabama should win, the opponent will immediately be classified as “overrated.” That scheduling model wouldn’t satisfy all the critics but it would be a start.
The South Florida series isn’t the headline-grabber that future home-and-homes against Oklahoma, Texas and Notre Dame will be (no, I haven’t forgotten West Virginia although the hard-core schedule-truthers are dubious about that matchup, too.) However, it does short-circuit the Central Florida paradox. The argument that Alabama was “afraid” to play UCF was stupid from the outset, but a series with USF — even a 2-for-1 — indicates that it was UCF’s petulance about having its scheduling cake and eating it too was the real obstacle. Has anyone shot itself more squarely in the public-relations foot than UCF in its refusal to consider such arrangements because of its “stature” as a college program? It’s hard to think of a bigger display of hubris, unless you go back to Oedipus and even he would schedule the Sphinx and play the occasional road game at Colonus.
There is also history of a less ancient sort. In the only other meeting between Alabama and USF back in 2003, Mike Shula began his tenure on a winning note
This isn’t entirely to lambast the anonymous “them” out there. Several sage college football observers commended the series on Thursday. Furthermore, plenty of Alabama supporters have grumbled about aspects of their own scheduling (and that of other teams) from time-to-time. The November games against FCS may be necessary but they aren’t popular. You’ll hear complaints from Alabama and Georgia fans in December, wondering why they have to spend their time playing each other in an elimination game while Clemson plays a four-touchdown underdog in the ACC title game. And there are Alabama purists who insist that the Crimson Tide is “too good” to play a road game at USF. (How quickly fans forget that glorious gumbo-soaked Saturday in LaFayette in 1990.)
The fact is, scheduling isn’t all that easy, for a number of reasons, many of them economic and some of them competitive. The neutral-site model has been good for Alabama and nowhere on any of its five recent championship trophies is there a “Didn’t Play Nobody” asterisk. The marquee matchups are on the way, at the glacial pace in which these things work. But that doesn’t mean that a creative agreement with South Florida is bad scheduling, either.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.