Alabama Football: The dynamics of ‘small school’ vs ‘big school’ games

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 24: A general view of Bryant-Denny Stadium during the game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Volunteers on October 24, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 24: A general view of Bryant-Denny Stadium during the game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Volunteers on October 24, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Nick Saban prefers otherwise but Alabama football plays FCS teams almost every season. Most FBS schools do the same and the FCS schools appreciate it.

In college football, the team at the top of almost every other school’s ‘Dream Upset’ list is Alabama football. Beyond college football, fans of every sport around the globe are attracted to underdogs facing seemingly insurmountable odds.

In college basketball, these Lilliputians are known as ‘Cinderellas.’ In the world of international football (soccer) thy are called ‘minnows.’ The English FA Cup often pits ‘minnows’ like Havant and Waterlooville against ‘whales’ like Liverpool.

In such a contest Liverpool would not play any of its stars, but all of its competitors would be full-time professionals. A team like ‘Havant’ would have only part-time, players whose real jobs are painters, bricklayers and garbage men (that’s binmen in England).

The contest explained above is equivalent to Mercer taking on Alabama football. Nick Saban is not fond of these games. Look back at our preview of the 2017 Mercer game to see Saban’s reaction to playing FCS teams.

Nick is one of a few FBS coaches that believe all Power Five teams should only play against other Power Five teams. The chance of that being mandated is as unlikely as Saban’s preference that SEC schools play nine conference games.

Absent a Power Five scheduling rule, FBS versus FCS games will continue. While the outcomes are almost always one-sided the benefits are not.

On the field, Alabama football has played nine FCS games in the Saban era. The combined scores are Alabama 438 – FCS 57. The points disparity would be worse but Saban tries to not run up the scores.

What is the value of these games to Alabama football? Young players get needed game experience. Starters don’t play much past the middle of the third quarter and get a needed break. More importantly, in a 12 game schedule, a less taxing game is needed a week before Auburn. Eight of the nine FCS contests have been played the Saturday before the Auburn game.

For the ‘minnows’ the value is money. Much needed funds that greatly expand their football budgets. Three times Russ Huesman brought Chattanooga teams to Tuscaloosa. Heuesman was appreciative of each opportunity.

"“Every time I saw Coach Saban, I thanked him, I said, ‘Thank you so much for playing us, I really appreciate it.’ We need it to keep our programs alive and do the things we need to do to be successful. For us, it’s huge.”"

There are other benefits, beyond dollars for the FCS schools. When Mercer was contacted by Alabama football about the 2017 game, the Bears already had Auburn on the 2017 schedule. Why add another mismatch in 2017? As reported by Saturday Down South, Mercer coach Bobby Lamb had this to say,

"“The reason we did it is because it’s Alabama. If it were somebody else calling, no. But it’s Alabama, the greatest program in the history of college football. With the greatest coach in the history of college football. So why not put yourself on that stage? It would help you in recruiting and help build your brand.”"

In 2015 Head Coach Jamey Chadwell brought Charleston Southern to Bryant-Denny. Again from Saturday Down South, Chadwell described the game and the benefits of playing Alabama football.

"the experience (is) like “going into a gunfight with a dart” – the Tide won 56-6, a half-a-million-dollar payday helped Chadwell’s program to upgrade their stadium and field turf. Chadwell says. “Those games are necessary to operate and survive in today’s football market. In the four years at CSU we got a new weight room, field turf, and upgrade in the stadium, and an upgrade in graphics on buildings. And all that was based on those guarantee games. It’s a win everywhere except in the win column.”"

It turns out the FBS versus FCS games are wins for both sides. Understandably, many fans are either unenthusiastic or opposed to them. But with the cost of football tickets having exploded, a game against a FCS school becomes the most desirable option for some fans.

Next: Five Greatest Threats to a 2017 Championship

Should Alabama football buck the national trend and stop playing FCS schools? Yes, but not unless every other Power Five school does the same. Until then enjoy being a ‘whale’ who benefits a ‘minnow.’