Q&A: AD Greg Byrne on chances for alcohol sales at 2022 Alabama football games, Nick Saban contract update
A necessary step was taken June 15 when Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne said the department would reconsider alcohol sales at athletic events. This came after the university announced it had worked out a deal with the city of Tuscaloosa to lift the proposed service fee for events selling alcohol that was announced in February. Previously, the city and the university had been at an impasse over the service fee. In response to the fee, Byrne said in February that UA would not be moving forward with alcohol sales.
In a conversation with The Tuscaloosa News, Byrne discussed the future of alcohol sales, the proposed new basketball arena, Nick Saban's contract, baseball coach Brad Bohannon's performance, NIL collectives and more.
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Q: You said this month you’re revisiting alcohol sales at athletic events. Where does that stand today?
Byrne: “We had done a lot of legwork leading up to last basketball/gymnastics season when we were exploring it for Coleman (Coliseum). Part of what we were doing was exploring it for Bryant-Denny Stadium. That has been restarted, and we will be working through (UA) president (Stuart) Bell and ultimately with our legal department and our concessionaire and seeing if there can be a plan to move forward for this coming year that we could take to the city and work with them on.
Q: Has a liquor license been applied for?
Byrne: It is part of the process.
Q: Could there be alcohol sales at Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall?
Byrne: It’s a definite maybe. There are hoops we have to jump through, and we’re going to be very respectful with that process.
Q: Where does the relationship with the city stand now?
Q: Byrne: Mayor (Walt) Maddox and I have had a very healthy relationship and certainly feel that that will continue in the future. Obviously, we all have to work with the boards that we have. We’re fortunate that here at Alabama, we have such a supportive board of trustees. There are processes the city has to go through. There are pressures they’re under that are very real, just like there are pressures we’re under as a department and university that are very real. We’ve been able to have some healthy dialogue with them and some constructive dialogue and feel that all parties will be able to move forward constructively.
When our community’s strong, that gives us a better opportunity for the University of Alabama and Alabama athletics to be strong, and when the University of Alabama and Alabama athletics are strong, that’s really good for the city of Tuscaloosa, too. I think everybody realizes that and is supportive of that.
Q: What’s the latest on the new basketball/gymnastics arena?
Byrne: We’re continuing to meet with the architects. Obviously when we announced our plans, that was just an early step in the process. We’re still continuing to work through the process with our trustees through campus, through Dr. Bell. We still feel it’s very important for our men’s and women’s basketball programs as well as gymnastics program moving forward.
We are continuing through that process. Since we announced it, inflation has skyrocketed. We are still seeing issues with labor shortages and also supply chain issues in the marketplace. So what we’re trying to understand is get our arms around what that all means right now. It’s really important that we understand that so we can have a fiscal model that can work for the long haul. But it is still a priority and I know coach (Nate) Oats, coach (Kristy) Curry – and we have new leadership in gymnastics, too, with Ashley (Johnston) – that they very much want to see this become a reality for our department.
Q: Has an architect been hired?
Byrne: There are processes we have to go through, the board of trustees from a construction standpoint. We have been working with an architectural firm to continue to move the process forward.
Q: Is it still 18 months of construction once you hire an architect?
Byrne: You have a year of design. You have different levels of design. That’s a lot of steps in the process. It’s a year design plus an 18-month construction once you get to that point in the process to be able to move the project forward.
Q: Have you determined what it will look like for season-ticket holders to have season tickets at the new arena?
Byrne: We have some very early modeling from a financial standpoint, but nowhere near where we’re ready to say anything publicly.
Q: In Nick Saban’s contract, it stipulates a meeting every February to look at marketplace trends. How did those go?
Byrne: Coach and I talk about a lot of things on a regular basis. There is language in his contract regarding average compensation of the top coaches in the country. We’re very cognizant of that. We want to make sure coach Saban and Miss Terry are very happy with our level of support. That has been the case in the past, and that will be the case in the future. So we have ongoing conversations to make sure that’s appropriate.
Editor's note: Saban's contract states that if his total guaranteed annual compensation is less than the average of the three highest-paid SEC football coaches or the five highest-paid NCAA coaches that UA would increase his compensation to the higher of the two averages.
Q: Saban got the extension in 2021, but as more coaches, such as Ohio State’s Ryan Day and possibly Georgia's Kirby Smart, receive extensions, more are close to Saban’s compensation range. Are you considering looking at something more for Saban right now? Or where does that stand?
Byrne: We want to make sure we are supporting coach Saban as he deserves to be supported. We have ongoing conversations to make sure that’s the case.
Q: What are the biggest misconceptions about High Tide Traditions and other NIL collectives?
Byrne: Collectives are a reality and we have to deal with reality. I think coach (Saban) said it very well that how NIL was supposed to be structured at the beginning was, young men and young women would be able to capitalize on their legitimate name, image and likeness opportunities. However, for those of us who are involved in recruiting on a daily basis, recruiting changes everything. Some schools and some people have seen this as an opportunity to create a market in the recruiting process.
What I’m really happy about is being able to see young men and young women be able to capitalize on their legitimate NIL value and opportunity. I think that’s healthy. We should have done that a long time ago as an enterprise, but we didn’t. So we’re dealing with the consequences of that right now.
A handful of schools have seen this as an opportunity on the frontend to take a different path in recruiting than maybe what we have historically seen. Whether that’s recruiting high school young men and young women or whether that’s the transfer portal. But you have had the perfect storm created because of NIL and the transfer portal both happening at the same time. That is creating new opportunities but it’s also creating challenges.
What you hear about is when a young man or young woman publicly announces a new marketing opportunity. What you don’t hear about nearly as much is when there are lots of student-athletes in the transfer portal that have no place to go. To where people around them will say, ‘Hey you need to go in the transfer portal because we’re going to try to find a new opportunity for you with NIL tied to it.’ Some have been able to do that, many haven’t. Some have lost scholarships. Some have lost opportunities.
What I hope can be a landing spot at some point is a world where student-athletes can genuinely benefit from the value they create from a name, image and likeness standpoint and that there can be guardrails when it comes to recruiting.
Q: With the wildcard that collectives can be, is there a path forward?
Byrne: There’s going to have to be. Whatever path that is. High Tide Traditions has been working diligently to use technology, to use legitimate marketing opportunities for our young men and young women to create opportunities for them to maximize their value. I think that’s commendable. We have had a lot of student-athletes directly benefit from that, and that’s a good thing.
I hope we can get to a point in NIL that you see similar marketing opportunities, what the market drives, at the professional level, the Olympic level of athletics, you see those same type of opportunities and consistency at the college level. Because I think that’s more of a true market representation.
We want to compete at the highest levels here at Alabama. So we have to deal in realities, and we’re going to do our very best to make sure, within the rules, that we can stay competitive.
Q: Brad Bohannon just wrapped up his fifth season leading Alabama baseball. How would you assess this past year?
Byrne: I love coach Bohannon. He is extremely smart, works his tail off. Recruits every chance he has the opportunity to. The culture within the program is really good. The young men in the program like playing for him. We’re not that far off. We beat Arkansas in three of four at the end of the year, who just almost made it to the finals of the College World Series. We swept Ole Miss, who are now in the finals of the College World Series. We have made a ton of strides. Obviously, this last year was not how we wanted it to end, not getting back to the NCAA Tournament like we did the year before, but I have a very strong belief in Brad.
We actually sat down (Wednesday) and walked through this past year and walked through what’s ahead. If we can stay healthy, I think we have a real opportunity to have a good year this next year.
Q: For future SEC scheduling, what’s Alabama’s preference? And how soon do you think this could get solved?
Byrne: I think this will be solved by the end of the calendar year at the latest.
Coach Saban and myself have been very vocal about saying that we need good games. Now we went and scheduled, starting in 2025, the two Power Five nonconference games thinking we were at eight. But I think it’s important that we have good football games that’s good for the team, good for the athletic department, good for our fans. Good for television, and make sure our brand at the University of Alabama stays very relevant. And we’ve scheduled with that. I think anything we can do to create good games is good for everybody involved. If that ends up being nine, we’ll certainly be supportive of that.
Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men's basketball for The Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly