How much more can Alabama stand?
When Crimson Tide lineman Aaron Douglas died last week, you had to wonder. One tragedy has followed another lately in the Deep South. In a state known for its football, Alabama has been tracked, lately, by its trail of tears. Tornadoes and storms ravaged Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and other parts of the state. Auburn has had its own issues.
Let's not waste time debating the level of sorrow. This is not only about the state's two main universities, this is about the state of folks living in Alabama.
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I'm not going to pretend to offer a solution to the suffering, maybe just a bit of healing. I checked with the NCAA about staging an August scrimmage between Alabama and Auburn to raise money for the tornado victims. The process is fairly simple. A request would have to be made to the NCAA Subcommittee on Legislative Affairs. NCAA staffers would kick it around and consider one-time relief from the rule that prohibits scrimmages in preseason practice.
The NCAA isn't saying whether such a thing would be allowed, or considered. There hasn't been much of a response from Alabama and Auburn. The issue basically is starting with this column, but I'm hoping it doesn't end here. The state of Alabama needs something good to happen. Douglas' death and the tornadoes reminded everyone there are things more important than what a lot of fans believe is the most important.
There are questions, huge ones, before we get this thing rolling. What competitive advantage would 'Bama and Auburn gain later in the season from scrimmaging each other in August? Would this set precedent that would put the NCAA in a box?
Would the participating coaches even go for it?
I've got answers, I think. To me, this is a no-brainer for the new NCAA, which wants to be perceived as kinder and gentler. A bunch of us media members spent a day in Indianapolis last week going through a mock enforcement experience. It was clear that the association wanted to improve its image by pulling back the curtain on the mysterious process. More than that, we saw that the NCAA actually had caring, vibrant humans with feelings and personalities.
Here's your chance, NCAA, to let us see that heart. By allowing this scrimmage, we might be talking the single-most compassionate act in the association's more-than-century old history. Have you seen the pictures of destruction? The videos? Have you read the stories? More than 230 people have died in Alabama alone. A Crimson Tide long-snapper was thrown 50 feet from his house, suffering a concussion. His girlfriend was killed.
"It's the most devastation I've seen in my lifetime," Nick Saban said.
We're basically talking about a one-time exception to bylaw 17.9.3 that states a school cannot play its first game or scrimmage against outside competition prior to the Thursday preceding Labor Day. If the NCAA can get around that, everything else is details.
Stage the scrimmage at Birmingham's Legion Field, the ancestral home of the Iron Bowl. Charge, say, $10 a head. Make it $15 or $20. Fans will pay it. Multiply that by what would certainly be a sellout of 72,000 and you’ve got $720,000-$1.4 million for charity. Sign a corporate sponsor for the (just an example) "Dr. Pepper Iron Bowl Preseason Classic". Now, bid out the television rights to the usual suspects -- ESPN, Fox, CBS Sports Network -- for what would essentially be a donation to the cause. What network wouldn't jump at the chance to televise the first "game" of the season?
I'm no marketing expert but it seems like we've just raised $2 million.
If the NFL remains dark, the possibilities are endless. We're talking not only about a ratings winner but about one of the biggest sports events of the summer. Cam Newton and Mark Ingram could be celebrity coaches. Bo Jackson and Joe Namath could be there for the coin toss. There would be an autograph tent generating more proceeds. The game-worn jerseys would be auctioned off.
The SEC already has donated $500,000 to the University of Alabama. In this sort of situation it's time to call out everyone. The National Football Foundation and AFCA need to weigh in, if they haven't already. Maybe $2 million was low.
Strangely, the only buzzkill I sense would come from the coaches. I get that they don't want their players hurt. How do you tell an Auburn defensive lineman to ease up on A.J. McCarron? I get the coaches don't want their reputations dinged by a "loss" to their biggest rival.
Still, I'm calling B.S. Players get hurt all the time, including spring games which are nothing more than what we're talking about here: glorified scrimmages. If the biggest concerns are physical, Nick and Gene, you guys would control the setting. It's the same control you exert over every aspect of players' lives, including their 29 preseason practices.
If the concerns are political then they aren't concerns at all. People's lives are more important than ego. Guys, this is bigger than you. Make it hit and giggle. Play in shorts. All skill players can wear red jerseys (no tackling). Make it touch football. It doesn't really matter. The good people of Alabama would turn out to watch pigeon races if the birds were designated Tigers and Tide. They deserve the biggest fundraiser possible.
If Auburn and Alabama become closer over this, that would be good, too. In a strange way, this tragic offseason has united the two sides. Tide for Toomer's sprung up to help after the poisoning of the oak trees. Toomer's for Tuscaloosa is now taking donations for those afflicted by the tornadoes.
Obviously, the storms didn't stay within the Alabama borders. They affected much of the Southeast. So, yes, let there be more scrimmages -- Georgia-Georgia Tech, Mississippi-Mississippi State, LSU-Louisiana Tech. The more football, the better. More money -- along with more healing -- well, that would be best.