Just how big is the tide in Tuscaloosa right now?
The Alabama Crimson Tide softball team: as of Wednesday with a win over Oklahoma, 2012 national champions.
In their eight trip to the Women's College World Series, the tide softball team not only won their first championship in softball, but became the first SEC school to accomplish the feat.
Alabama Crimson Tide women's golf: 2012 national champions.
The ladies on the green won the school's first championship in a sport other than gymnastics or football earlier this year when senior Brooke Pancake (Yes, amazing name — and no, it's real; not a cartoon character from Doug) made a two-putt for par on the final hole over four rounds at Vanderbilt Legends Course.
Alabama Crimson Tide women's gymnastics: 2012 national champions.
Sarah Patterson's crew won their sixth national championship in April (second straight), while also completing their 27th regional championship.
And finally, the Alabama Crimson Tide football team: 2011 national champions.
Chalk up the 14th 'ship in school history for Bama football (more than any other school in nearly 100 years) and head coach Nick Saban's second at "The Capstone."
While at the Tennessee vs. Alabama game last October, the culture surrounding Alabama football right now was summed up perfectly while standing at a urinal between two Tennessee fans inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Both staring at the wall — as men do and should while they take care of their business — and in obvious despair in response to their tidal throttling, a UT fan on my left said "Welp, we'll get heem next yay-er."
The UT fan on my right responds, "Yehp, we'll get heem in about 2017."
And it's not only football anymore. Toss in women's gymnastics, women's golf and women's softball, and that's four national championships for one school in a matter of six months. And I'm not even mentioning the men's golf team, who won the 2012 SEC title and currently has four of the top collegiate golfers in the nation; the men's basketball team, who is on the rise behind head coach Anthony Grant and are only second to Kentucky in SEC championships; or the baseball team, who has five College World Series appearances and have sent 60 players to the Major Leagues — most in the SEC.
When it comes to college sports, the University of Alabama is the place to be. It's truly been a dream of a year in regards to athletics in Tuscaloosa. But how? And why right now?
Let me first clear the air. I went to Alabama.
Although originally from Illinois — yes, I did get called a 'yankee' every day — I spent four years in beautiful "T-town" and graduated with a broadcast journalism degree, covering athletics in the process.
I've interviewed nearly every 2012 championship coach Alabama beholds — although I was terrified to ask Saban any questions whatsoever at such a young age. If you would have seen the way he fired back at reporters with that 'must destroy the death-star' look in his eyes, you would have been apprehensive as well. But that's another story for another day…
Although it may seem an oxymoron, my main objective in this article is to convince you unbiasedly as to why the University of Alabama currently has the best athletic program in the country — without sounding like a 'homer.' You be the judge. But facts are facts. Hear me out ladies and gents.
Bama women's golf head coach Mic Potter stated, “It doesn’t happen just because of the coaches and the players, it starts at the top. You have to be committed in terms of facilities, backing, and administrative support. It’s all here. It’s all in place.” And he's absolutely right.
There is no doubt that in order to have a great business, school, family….anything — you need to have tremendous leadership. Athletic Director Mal Moore has provided just that; he's had 13 national championship teams in his tenure. But one still has to convince the right coaches to accept the job, the right athletes to accept the scholarship, and the university to spend the right amount of money in all the right places.
You can't argue that Alabama doesn't have premiere coaches. Coaches like Saban take a job in Tuscaloosa for two reasons: culture and money.
Sure, Saban gets paid almost $6 million a year, making him the highest paid coach in college football. Anyone would take that kind of lettuce. But the university is also giving out big bonuses to their coaches that claim national championships. In fact, Bama's four national championship coaches of the past year will all pull in a combined $583,333 in bonuses.
Money goes a long way, right? But I did just mention 'culture' as well. Let's not be too pretentious.
There are three religions in Alabama: Football, Jesus and beer — and most likely in that order (And I just joked about being too pretentious). Alabama lives and breathes pig skin. It's a great place for Saban to build a dynasty. He's a smart guy, he knows this.
In fact, rumor has it that when the legendary coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant was at the school, he convinced many political leaders to keep professional sports teams from sprouting up in neighboring Birmingham because he wanted his collegiate Alabama football team to be the 'pro' sports team of the state, recieving all the attention and fanfare — and in reality, alongside rival Auburn, it is to this day.
One could also argue that you won't find better people in west central Alabama.
Following the devastating tornadoes that struck on April 27, 2011, I flew out to volunteer for a week during the relief effort. Tuscaloosa and its residents showed their true character in coming together during such a tough time and it was one of the most inspirational experiences I've ever seen. I witnessed true compassion towards people of all walks of life. They weren't sitting around waiting for help, feeling sorry for themselves. They were taking immediate action and getting things done in the process.
You throw in all of that great culture along with its geography (they call it "Alabama the beautiful" for a reason), and the tide can reel in almost any recruit or coach they wish. Everyone wants to be where football is king and the snow doesn't fly (sorry Notre Dame and Michigan). And guess what; when the football team does well, it helps all the other programs.
When I was a student at Alabama my freshman year, I was shocked to learn that football tickets were only roughly $5 each and all other sporting events were free. That's right. Free. The football program made so much money that it essentially supported all other programs.
You mean I could go to an Alabama vs. Kentucky basketball game…for free?? My thinking: "Is this heaven?" A Ray Liotta-like response said, "No, It's Alabama."
But of course we can't talk about college sports without mentioning the education, can we?
I'll try to make this concise.
Alabama has consistently ranked in the top 50 of public universities in the U.S. for years, and with the boom of students still on the rise, the school, excuse me, tide, is only set to keep improving.
Let's take a quick look at some of the largest schools in the country and where they rank.
Arizona State: 1st in undergrad enrollment with 59,562 students. Ranked 132nd best university by US News.
Central Florida: 2nd in undergrad enrollment with 47,580 students. Ranked 177th best university by US News.
Ohio State: 3rd in undergrad enrollment with 42,082 students. Ranked 55th in best university by US News.
Texas: 6th in undergrad enrollment with 38,420 students. Ranked 45th in best university by US News.
Florida: 10th in undergrad enrollment with 32,660 students. Ranked 58th best university by US News.
Have you noticed that Florida, Texas and Ohio State have competed for multiple national championships in both basketball and football in the past decade? Those schools have two things in common: they're both top 10 in the nation in enrollment and they are all ranked in the top 60 of best universities.
Alabama has grown nearly 10,000 students in the past 10 years and are now sitting at almost 32,000 undergraduates, which ranks them just outside the top 10. They are also currently ranked the 75th best school in the country by US News. I'm not sure what Arizona State and Central Florida are doing wrong, but they should be taking notes from the other aforementioned schools.
Sure, money makes the world go 'round. But it also makes athletic programs thrive.
In order to get the money, you have to get the students. Kids want to go to a great school — it helps if it's warm weather. And there's no doubt that many are now choosing schools that boast great athletic programs. Part of the whole allure of the 'college experience' that so many teens crave is being able to go to that sold out BCS game or the packed out party that is the Final Four.
You have a great culture surrounding a university and you receive tremendous leadership. Great leadership gets you the students. Students equal money. You get the money and you can afford the first-class coaches. Great coaches produce wins. Wins produce more fans. More fans produce more money. And that's the cycle.
Just call it the 'tide effect.' Because what I just described above is what Alabama has been able to accomplish, and until other schools figure out the formula — and they will — the tide will just keep on rolling.
They most certainly are right now.
Photo Credit: AP