As Alabama football adds more home-and-homes, is this the end of neutral site scheduling? | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

The outlines of Greg Byrne’s scheduling strategy for Alabama football, which had been coming into focus over the past couple of years, are now plain.

This week’s announcement of home-and-home series with Oklahoma State and Boston College and the subsequent shuffle of the dates for the previously announced Notre Dame home-and-homes, show that the general nonconference philosophy will be one Power Five home game and one Power Five road game for the foreseeable future.

That’s a strategic switch from the last dozen years or so, which have seen Alabama play marquee programs, some bigger names than others but all recognizable Power Five teams, at neutral sites. Most often, those games were in Atlanta or Dallas. Some reasons were obvious: money and television exposure. Playing an early season game in Atlanta also meant that whatever domed edifice was in use at the time would not be unfamiliar when the SEC Championship rolled around. As for playing in Dallas, have you noticed how many players Alabama has recruited out of Texas over the past several years? A live presence in that state (which also includes a bi-annual trip to College Station) wasn’t the only factor, but it didn’t hurt.

Notre Dame cornerback Nick McCloud, left, and safety Shaun Crawford, right, work together to bring down Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith during the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

We now seem to be at the end of the neutral-site era, with nothing scheduled after the 2021 opener against Miami in Atlanta. There are various reasons but two are obvious. Bryant-Denny Stadium has been expanded and luxuriated, and season-ticket holders paying huge premiums prefer, rightly, bigger and better games for their bucks. Second, Alabama had been so dominant in its neutral-site games that the matchmakers were finding it harder and harder to find potential opponents who, as the kids say, wanted that smoke in Week One.

ALABAMA FOOTBALL VS OKLAHOMA STATE:Alabama football announces home-and-home with Oklahoma State, pushes Notre Dame back a year

ALABAMA FOOTBALL VS BOSTON COLLEGE:Alabama football adds home-and-home series with Boston College

As a long-time advocate of more home-and-home series, which is better for Tuscaloosa, the time should have come sooner. Scheduling is an intricate art, though. There are two conversations going on this week that may have an effect 10 years from now, or even beyond. The first is the announcement of Nick Saban’s contract extension on Monday. Whether he will coach through the extension date (2028 would be the final season) or decide to step down earlier or later isn’t certain, but it appears likely that he will coach Alabama at Texas and the Wisconsin, West Virginia and Ohio State games that will be historic (and lucrative for television). 

The other factor is the College Football Playoff’s next incarnation. There has been a flurry of conversation this week about expanding the field, not just to eight teams but to 12. For that to happen, the champions of the major conferences would have to be guaranteed a berth. That means losing a nonconference road game in September wouldn’t be the end of the world, even if you took a second loss in league play. 

As always, Alabama’s schedule isn’t going to satisfy everyone. Those who have demanded for years that Alabama play games above the Mason-Dixon Line will commission another survey to see whether Wisconsin and Massachusetts are suitably northern. Because every game scheduled isn’t against teams that are great at this very moment, others will be disgruntled even though Byrne saw the wisdom of not playing Notre Dame and Ohio State in consecutive weeks. 

A final word of caution: things don’t always stay the same. Alabama sits at the pinnacle of the sport and isn’t going to stop investing in football, but unusual things do happen. Within living memory, two coaching transitions and a bit of ensuing chaos saw the Crimson Tide lose a home-and-home series to Boston College (who knew the Eagles would have Doug Flutie in just those years, 1983 and 1984?) and again to UCLA in 1999 and 2000. Those teams, at the time those schedules were made, would probably have fallen in the “good, not great” category. 

That doesn’t mean collapse is imminent. Alabama will be good, likelier than not, and has a good scheduling plan in place. But when you are talking 10 years in the future, nothing is certain.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt