Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Being a graduate of the University of Alabama, I can say that I’m proud to be an alumnus of the school that I always cheer for every Saturday. The four years I was at the University were the best years of my life. But there is one lingering issue that current students and alumni alike are very frustrated about: the student attendance at Alabama home football games.
At every home game, there seems to be a big hole left over in the student section. While the University continues to announce sellouts at home games – which is technically true – the fans continue to wonder if that space could be used for other purposes.
Even at SEC games, you see a hole in the upper deck that shows up on the overhead cameras in during TV broadcasts. The problems didn’t really didn’t manifest itself until the North End Zone expansion brought the capacity to over 101,000, and student seating increased to 17,000.
The even harder problem is getting students to stay in their seats during the game. Even with a 3/4 capacity student section, half of those students now leave the stadium by the time the fourth quarter ends when the Crimson Tide is up big. This is especially a problem when there are 11am kickoffs, where you’re lucky to see a half-empty area with students.
Why aren’t students coming? Usually there isn’t much incentive to go to the games. It’s because the opponents are teams like Western Kentucky or Georgia State that Alabama beats 50-something to maybe seven. Otherwise, it’s because of the kickoff time.
The university has tried multiple methods to get students to come to games, including a penalty system that punishes students for not using the their tickets or not getting rid of them by giving them to other students. If a student commits one of these actions, they are given a point and after a certain amount of points, they are punished by not allowing them to purchase tickets for next season and/or tickets to postseason game that year/next year. But it seems this is not helping the problem.
In the Thursday edition of the Crimson White, Alabama head coach Nick Saban wrote a letter to all students about the environment that the students create in Bryant-Denny Stadium:
"“Bryant-Denny Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the country because of the atmosphere our students and fans help create. You make a huge difference in terms of how our team responds each Saturday. Sometimes the result of a game may come down to a single play, and we all have a role in what the result of that play may be. You have an impact, whether it is the noise on third down when the opposing team has the ball, or the energy you provide for the players when we try to win the fourth quarter.”"
The SGA has even created the Stay for Four initiative to create incentives for Alabama students that stay at the stadium for all four quarters. But all that won’t be enough. Students will still come and go. There will be blowouts in the game, directly resulting in students massing out of the stadium to participate in other Saturday activities.
These encouragements are nice, but I have some stronger, more forcible suggestions for Alabama to keep students in the stands during home game Saturdays:
1. Scrap the entire idea of block seating. This idea isn’t likely to occur, but I believe block seating is doing more harm than good in the student section. If you don’t know what block seating is, it is an area of the stadium the SGA allocates out to student organizations, mostly Greek organizations. But this idea of block seating just alienates students and doesn’t create any unity. I was at Midnight Yell last week in College Station, TX and I came away with one thing: the unity of the student body is one thing Texas A&M students do better than Alabama.
2. Schedule bigger non-conference opponents. Frankly, the games need to be better in order for students to stay. Everybody knows that a college student’s attention span is not very tolerable when it comes to boredom. These neutral-site games with Michigan and Virginia Tech are nice, but let’s start scheduling some home-and-home series against big opponents. We know Alabama’s got the money to get them to play in Bryant-Denny, so why not schedule them?
3. Create better incentives to keep students in the seats. The Stay for Four programs incentives are nice, but there needs to be bigger prizes than a gift from the University’s Supply Store. Offer up iPads, a scholarship or even free food. We all know college students yearn for free stuff, so why not give them the best free stuff that the university can afford?
4. If the previous suggestions don’t work, start cutting down on student seats. This will be an idea that most UA students would be strongly opposed to, but if the suggestions I mentioned don’t make any progress, then it’s a lost cause to get all 17,000 seats filled. Start allocating some of those seats for some additional Tide Pride seating, allowing more people from the never-ending waiting list to get a chance to see a ballgame where they’ll likely stay for the entire game, because they are paying more for the seats.
We brag about having over 101,000 people in Bryant-Denny, but if there are holes in the stadium, then the very idea of having that many people is squandered. It’s bad enough we have to beg and plead with students to come to Alabama games, a privilege which most people consider a luxury and would leap at the chance to buy such tickets. Either we get students to come to the game and stay for the game or we put people there who will pay to watch all four quarters. Either way, there needs to be a solution.
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