What Are Bama’s ‘Big Four’ Sports?


Posted Feb 13, 2014


One of the senior administrators at Scout recently berated sports reporters (none specifically, but as a group) who seem to be less than enthusiastic about the Winter Olympics. He told those of us who are guilty to expand our horizons beyond the Big Four sports. He asked it on the night I watched the tribute to the Beatles instead of whatever else I would have watched besides the Winter Olympics.



My first thought was “Four?” and I’m not sure what they are. The first three, of course, are easy.

Football, Football Recruiting, Spring Football.

That’s probably not what he had in mind. He’s from Kansas and probably puts men’s basketball above spring football.

My only real memory of the Winter Olympics is when the United States beat the Soviet Union in hockey. It happened during the day, but was on television at night. I was at a very large cocktail party and it was amusing that all the men were standing around cheering, but not knowing anything except that the USA was going to win.

I think many fans are most passionate about the sports they grew up with. As a young person in Birmingham, I played baseball from the time it was warm enough to hit a ball without paralyzing my hands until it was too cold to do that. Then we’d play football until it was too cold to be outside, about mid-January. I was introduced to basketball about midway through elementary school and we played it for four or five weeks until we could get back to baseball. Basketball, though, became my favorite participation sport.

I have never been on ice skates or snow skis and if I'd ever worn a sequined jump suit I wouldn't admit it.

As a spectator sport, I’m not a big fan of baseball. Too slow, particularly when pitchers are throwing more balls than strikes, but I recognize it as a favorite of many people.

No question, though, that football has replaced baseball as America’s Pasttime.

I really enjoy watching basketball, particularly at tournament time. It is the ultimate tournament sport.

What would be the Big Four at Alabama?

Although there’s a malaise in men’s basketball in Tuscaloosa, and also around the Southeastern Conference and the nation based on attendance figures, I’d still make it second.

Many would put gymnastics in the Big Four. Sarah Patterson has been the best sports promoter ever at Alabama, and there are huge crowds for her excellent teams, but those are mostly niche fans. It has been observed that gymnastics sells a lot of three-seat packages – Mommy, Daddy, and Little Girl.

Softball has a tremendous following, ranking first or second in the nation in attendance every year. There are several components, including two or three shared with gymnastics: Patrick Murphy is a great promoter, the Tide women are big winners, and it is an attractive spectator sport for young girls, of whom many are now playing the game in Alabama high schools.

Women’s basketball has been a tough sell in much of the South, Tennessee the obvious exception. Kristy Curry is building a following in Tuscaloosa, though, and the exceptional Foster Auditorium venue makes it a fun event. The problem, of course, is parking, so it’s still mostly a student crowd.

The surprising contender is golf. Both the men’s and women’s teams have won national championships in the last couple of years, and golf is a sport that many play for many, many years. It is not, however, a spectator sport at Alabama. It would be nice to follow those teams, though, playing in Puerto Rico and Mexico and Las Vegas in the early part of the season. Those teams rarely play in Tuscaloosa.

In recent years there have been growing “crowds” at tennis, track and field, swimming and diving, volleyball, and soccer events. Rowing doesn’t often perform on the Black Warrior River, but when it does there’s a relaxed crowd, few if any seeming to be concerned about the outcome. But those sports don’t threaten to be part of the Big Four.

I’m aware that Alabama has a club team in hockey, the Frozen Tide, that has done very well in recent years and which has drawn as many as a couple of thousand spectators playing at the ice rink in Pelham outside Birmingham.

The recent winter storms in the South haven’t helped fuel interest in hockey, though.

Which brings us back to the question: What are the Big Four at Alabama?

And what’s going on in men’s figure skating in Socchi?


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