Keith Strudler: Roll Tide

Dec 13, 2017

Let’s face it, there’s one topic too big to ignore today. It’s on everybody’s mind, and it harkens thoughts of fairness and respect. It’s about winning and scoreboards and state and regional pride. It’s about the state of Alabama. I’m talking, of course, about the University of Alabama being selected as the last of four teams to make the College Football Playoff, joining Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia in the quest to become the number one football team in the country, a decision that nearly split the college football world and was truly up for grabs until the final decision. And yes, I am making a direct parallel with the election of Doug Jones in the same state, although I’d hate to suggest a senatorial campaign is nearly as exciting as a college football season.

Alabama was selected last week despite not winning the Southeastern Conference Championship and not even making the Conference title game. They had a relatively weak schedule and lost to instate rival Auburn on the final game of the regular season. That’s in contrast to Ohio State, the first team outside the four-team playoff, who did win their Big Ten Conference title against a previously undefeated Wisconsin. Also left out was undefeated American Athletic Conference Champ Central Florida and two-loss Southern California, who won the PAC-12 Conference championship. Those and others were passed over for Alabama, the current dynasty in college football. For perspective, of the four year history of the College Football Playoff, Alabama has been in the four team field every time. Consider that for a second. Of the 130 schools in the top NCAA football division, Alabama has made the playoffs all four years. You think the Republicans are dominant in Alabama? It’s nothing compared to the Crimson Tide.

Alabama’s selection accomplishes something remarkable, beyond the obvious. First, it’s the first time two teams from the same conference – Alabama and Georgia of the SEC – have made the playoffs in the same year. Second, it means that two power conferences – the Big Ten and the Pac-12 – both miss out on a chance at a title. So perhaps the two most storied football conferences in American history will be watching the playoffs just like the rest of us – on TV. Which we can, now that the Playoff finally moved the semifinals away from New Year’s Eve.

Since the announcement, there’s been considerable analysis of whether Alabama deserved to get in, or which team had a better resume or stronger body of work – these are the kinds of bizarre terms used to describe a football season. I can’t say that they did or didn’t deserve it, especially since my bias towards the SEC clouds pretty much every decision I make in life, whether or not it involves college sports. And I got to go to the Iron Bowl last year in Tuscaloosa and had a really good time, so I became something of Alabama fan. You know what they say – if you want someone’s vote, just shake their hand. But generally speaking, American sports fans tend to root against the Crimson Tide. They’re too good, they’ve got too many advantages, Nick Saban isn’t friendly, and on and on. They’re an easy mark, especially if you live outside that particular corner of the Deep South.

But I’d say this. Americans, or at least the Americans most likely to hear this commentary on this radio station in this part of the country, are fairly likely to hold a relatively negative view of Alabama as an aggregate, not just the team. That sentiment clouded the entirety of the last several weeks, if not months, where we largely viewed the state as a bastardization of American evolution. They stood poised to elect a man who not only stood accused of sexual assault of teenagers while he was in his 30’s, but also held viewpoints just slightly less hateful than the aggregate of all Star Wars villains. And yet, by the slimmest of margins, Alabama voters did what most of us would call “the right thing.” Politics aside, they elected someone who’s not a child molester and doesn’t think being gay is either a sin or a crime. That may seem like a low bar, but it’s a start.

I don’t know if this result is going to change Alabama football at all – whether it might make it easier to recruit African-American athletes, which didn’t seem problematic before. Perhaps a Roy Moore win might have been a nice recruiting pitch for coaches in, say, Georgia and Tennessee. We’ll never know. But I’d say this. If you don’t have a dog in the College Football Playoff this year, why not root for Alabama? It’s the least we can do for showing us where the actual bottom is – and not reaching it. For giving us one night where we don’t assume it can always get worse. For restoring just a modicum of faith in humanity, or at least America’s version thereof. Generally speaking, I’m a Florida Gator fan. But right now, I say Roll Tide. If nothing else, they earned it.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.