Rest assured that top priority for Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore (and his assistant, Kevin Almond, who is actively involved in scheduling) is finding additional opponents for Bama beginning in 2006.
In most cases, the athletics director will make the call, although he usually will consult with the head football coach. At most schools, the addition of the weak sister is attractive to both the athletics director–who gets an additional home game worth on average $3 million–and the head football coach, who would rather take his chances with Middle Tennessee State than Southern Cal.
Approximately 100 per cent of fans would prefer the high profile intersectional opponent, even though it means only one home game in a two-game series. In the year in which the fan's team has to travel, it means a number of fans also get to travel. And even those who can't make the trip are likely to be able to see the game on television.
What will Alabama do?
The hard reality is that Alabama may not be ready for the tough opponent beginning in 2006. NCAA sanctions reducing Crimson Tide football scholarships will be felt for a few more years. Indeed, considering some of the high profile seniors this season, Bama may be stronger in 2005 than in 2006.
Additionally, NCAA penalties banned Alabama from bowl games for two years, a sanction that took a bite out of Bama revenue since SEC rules prohibit bowl revenue sharing with teams that are not bowl-eligible. (Bama may get a portion of that back later, but there was still substantial revenue loss.)
The new NCAA legislation does more than just allow a 12th game for Division 1A teams beginning in 2006. It also allows a team to schedule a Division 1AA team and have it count in the 1A team's bowl requirements each year. A team must win at least six games to be bowl eligible. Previously a 1A team could count a game against a 1AA opponent only once every four years.
In 2000 and 2001 Alabama had a home-and-home series against UCLA. In 2002 and 2003 the Tide played home-and-home games against Oklahoma. It was not good for Bama, which was 0-4 in those games. Bama went from a winning record against both UCLA and Oklahoma to a losing record against both.
A reasonable expectation for Alabama fans is that added games in 2006 and beyond–perhaps for a number of years beyond–will not be attractive except to the athletics director (who must fund mostly revenue-losing programs with football revenue) and the head football coach (who will have a better chance of adding to his victory total). In other words, traffic could be heavy on several weekends between small Louisiana towns and Tuscaloosa.
Speaking of Louisiana, future Alabama schedules are thought to include some games with Tulane on the basis of two games in Tuscaloosa in exchange for one in New Orleans. (That actually seems like a bad deal. Most Bama fans would prefer all three games to be in New Orleans.) It is possible some games could be played with that type arrangement.
Ever since the 12th game possibility was announced, there has been speculation about possible opponents, including renewing the series with former SEC member (now ACC member) Georgia Tech. Army has been rumored as a possibility. Both Tech and Army have small stadiums, but are close to big ones–Giants Stadium in the case of Army and the Georgiadome in the case of Tech.
It's unfortunate that Alabama is already playing Hawaii in 2006. The Rainbow Warriors will be in Tuscaloosa on September 2 to open that season in Bryant-Denny Stadium, the first game in the stadium following expansion to over 90,000. It doesn't seem likely that Alabama could schedule a return trip to The Islands for a 12th game in 2006.
There's another possibility that might be appealing. A few years ago the SEC changed the league schedule from a 5-2-1 format to a 5-1-2 format. That is, previously each team played the five teams in its division, had two every year games against teams from the other division, and one game in which the opponent from the other division rotated on a home-and-home basis over two years.
Alabama plays each year against the other five Western Division opponents–Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State. It also plays Tennessee from the Eastern Division each year. And it plays two other teams from the East, one home and one away. This year the Tide will play at South Carolina (which played in Tuscaloosa last year) and at Florida. Next year the Tide will go to Florida and play host to Vanderbilt.
Previously, each team had two every year opponents from the opposite division. In the case of Alabama, the team in addition to Tennessee was Vanderbilt.
Which brings us to another possible use of that 12th game. Expand the SEC schedule to nine games, and give us back our Vandy as an opponent every year.