Alabama, the school America loves to hate, has a rare chance to capture hearts | Goodbread
Alabama, America's team?
Doesn't roll off the tongue at all, does it?
Crimson Tide athletics has managed to build a nationally-recognized brand, almost entirely through football success, and is awash in revenue that would turn most athletic directors green with envy. There's an alumni club in more than half the states in the country, from Hawaii to Kansas to Connecticut. But when it comes to rooting interest that goes beyond its vast fan base, Alabama is more familiar with the villain role. America loves an underdog, and by extension, it likes to see dynasties crash in spectacular fashion. That's why Alabama football success grows tiresome outside its fan base.
But its baseball team, with the Southeastern Conference tournament commencing Tuesday, has a chance to flip that script.
The rare wave of widespread popularity that can transcend the provincial nature of a college fan base, generally, is a two-part formula: an unexpected run of on-field success, and a story to go with it.
For Alabama, the story springs forth from the ugliest of seeds: the disturbing dismissal of coach Brad Bohannon. Days after being tied to a large wager in an Ohio sportsbook − a bet on Alabama to lose a game it lost 8-6 to LSU on April 28 − Bohannon was replaced by interim coach Jason Jackson. Per UA, there is no evidence that players had knowledge of the bet; the news apparently left them blindsided and back-stabbed. It's difficult to fathom a team taking a nastier collective gut punch than to learn that its own head coach allegedly took an interest in losing a game.
Rebounding from such a gut punch, however, can be a compelling narrative all its own.
And if you haven't noticed, the Crimson Tide has been delivering the other half of the formula − winning − since the day Bohannon was shown the door. Just hours after his firing, UA thrashed a Vanderbilt team that was ranked No. 5 in the nation at the time by an 11-2 score and went on to win the series. In 10 games since Bohannon's ouster, the Crimson Tide is 8-2 with two more series wins over Texas A&M and Ole Miss. It swept the Rebels at home over the weekend. Heading into Tuesday night's SEC Tournament opener vs. Kentucky, having climbed to a winning mark in SEC play with a No. 12-ranked RPI, Alabama might just end up hosting an NCAA regional.
Imagine it, just for a minute, far-fetched as it might be.
It's June 16 in Omaha. The College World Series gets underway. And for the first time since 1999, Alabama is there as a surprise qualifier. Broadcasts have shifted from premium streaming services to the commanding presence of ESPN. Attention on the teams, and the stories that accompany them, ramps up. And here's a squad that overcame what looks like treason to make it to Omaha.
That's a team with a resolve no opponent could even understand, much less duplicate.
And it's a team somebody who doesn't care one bit about Alabama athletics can get behind.
Tuscaloosa News columnist Chase Goodbread is also the weekly co-host of Crimson Cover TV on WVUA-23 and the Talkin' Tide podcast. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.