published Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Mark Wiedmer: Is Alabama dominance good for football?

Alabama Coach Nick Saban
Alabama Coach Nick Saban
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

For all those Southeastern Conference football fans concerned that Alabama truly is in the middle of a historic run of national championships, I feel your pain.

Not because I'm necessarily unhappy to see the Crimson Tide roll to their third national championship in four years. For someone who greatly admired Bear Bryant, for someone who played junior high basketball against former Tiders Jeff Rutledge and Murray Legg, to see the nation's most storied program add to its considerable legacy is somewhat comforting.

It's kind of like hearing an old Stones or Beatles tune and knowing that there's still nothing out there in today's music that can match that magic.

But much as most of the South lives and dies with college football, I grew up hanging on every sneaker squeak of college basketball. Only trouble was, for most of my youth only one school won, and it wasn't a school I liked. From 1964 through 1975, the UCLA Bruins took 10 NCAA titles in 12 years for coach John Wooden.

They won with bigs (Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton). They won with smalls (Gail Goodrich and Walt Hazzard). They won with 'tweeners (Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe).

But every March save two (Texas Western in 1966, North Carolina State in 1974), they cut down the nets, leaving all of us who didn't worship at the feet of the Wizard of Westwood (Wooden) feeling both hapless and hopeless. Everyone but the Bruins was playing for second. Plain and simple.

"I was just starting out [as an assistant] at Virginia Tech back then," former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Mack McCarthy said Tuesday. "And as a coach, I wasn't thinking in terms of UCLA keeping us from a national championship. We weren't at that level yet.

"But as a college basketball fan, I felt that way for sure. They just always won."

What's scary for the rest of college football are the signs that Alabama football under Nick Saban could become what Wooden's UCLA teams were to college basketball more than 40 years ago.

"I'm not anti-Alabama, even though I was an assistant at Auburn," McCarthy said. "But for college football, it is a little worrisome what they're doing."

More worrisome was another point McCarthy made.

"You could make a case that it's much more difficult today to do what Alabama's doing," he said. "There's more scrutiny. There's more accountability. Academic requirements are more stringent, all of which makes this run they're on all the more amazing."

And that's not all.

"In UCLA's day there were less people really trying to win a national championship," he said. "There weren't that many programs in either football or basketball realy committed to doing whatever it took to win it all. That's much different today."

A lot of folks today are hoping that the next BCS title game won't include Brent Musburger in the ESPN broadcast booth after his frat-boy comments about 2012 Miss Alabama USA Katherine Webb dating Tide quarterback AJ McCarron.

And if the 73-year-old Musburger loses his job, perhaps he should. But before everyone rips him for "objectifying" Miss Webb, when there are pictures of you donning a skimpy bikini for a beauty pageant all over the web, haven't you kind of "objectified" yourself?

But perhaps we digress, for the object of concern for college football fans should focus on the similarities between Wooden and Saban.

Each is an unmatched recruiter. Each is wedded to a system for preparation — Wooden's Pyramid of Success, Saban's Process — yet each bends his style of play to fit his changing talent.

Neither seems to bask in his own glory, quickly moving on to the next season. Neither lets the small mistakes pass. Even in a 42-14 victory over Notre Dame, Saban bemoaned the Irish's meaningless second-half touchdowns.

Preached Wooden: "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"

This doesn't mean Bama is about to win 10 of 12 BCS titles. It doesn't mean the Tide will three-peat next season. They may never win another one. After all, Bear went back-to-back in 1978 and '79, but Bama didn't win it all again until 1992 under Gene Stallings.

Still, for anyone who's worried the Tide's dynasty is just beginning, I know how you feel. Playing for second gets old.

But for those ready to start following soccer or get reacquainted with their families, also consider that UCLA has won one title in the 38 years since the late Wooden retired, and that was 18 years ago. Hope springs eternal. Musburger might even grow up one day.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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JonathanMCook said...

Assuming you read the comments Mark, great column.

In my Tennessee household growing up, we don't root for Alabama. Period. Since then, we've naturally added Georgia Southern and Appy State to the mix (for obvious reasons). However, they are not the unstoppable juggernaut as we are led to believe (see College Station [the town, not the store at Hamilton Place]).

That said, if Alabama started a 4-5 year dynasty, they will no longer be regulated to SEC hatred but national hatred. And this time, there will be no achilles heel such as Mojo's Tires and Mag Wheels to stop them.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to the Mocs/North Dakota State (Alabama lite) rivalry next year. ;)

January 9, 2013 at 10:05 a.m.
D1Woody said...

Musburger should not be fired or forced to apologize. It's ridiculous that ESPN has given and apologetic statement for his comments. He didn’t say anything that should be considered over the top or out of line. “He was complimentary, not creepy”, “He said we were beautiful and gorgeous, I don’t see why any woman wouldn’t be flattered by that”– Those were the words from Katherine herself and if she’s not offended then neither should anyone else. Once again it’s the media making something out of nothing.

January 9, 2013 at 1:10 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

ESPN puts out a lot more trashy stuff than that.

January 9, 2013 at 2:16 p.m.
jomo11 said...

Alabama dominance hurts Tennessee big-time, no matter how you spin it. Right now Alabama is considered "major-league" and Tenn "minor-league" . . .

January 9, 2013 at 2:49 p.m.
Alatenga said...

Good column. Certainly, Alabama's dominance is good for Tide fans and for the SEC inasmuch that each member shares in bowl and TV revenues. The conference benefits from the prestige, too, that leading teams garner. The longer-running dynasty is really the SEC's, which began with Tennessee's title in the first BCS and has continued with almost a .500 title capture since. No doubt in my mind that Georgia would have inflicted similar damage to Notre Dame in Monday's title game. I don't have problems with dynasties. Miami, Nebraska, et al,had great dynastic runs that we either loved or loved to hate. Either way, their successes didn't diminish the game and only increased enthusiasm on all fronts.

January 9, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.
Maximus said...

Mark, I enjoyed your article. John Wooden is one of my heroes. As for the Stones and Beatles...not so much. As a Great American southern teenager in the 70's, Skynrd and ZZ Top Ruled. As for Saban and his Tide Dynasty maybe we should get Obama and his fed regulators involved so that the rest of college football can get a "fair shot". I can see it now...The Federal Department Of NCAA Football Regulation. Instead of this terrible "free market" open recruiting of high school football players by these over paid, bully, college coaches where I'm sure there is chicanery going on, Obama would appoint a special evaluation committee composed of ivy league trained football experts that would evaluate and disperse all high school talent equally among all the college football teams. This regulatory system would make sure that the high school football talent is divided equally among all teams so that no one would get their feelings hurt. The regulators and the government would also determine coaches pay and make sure that women start getting the opportunity to interview for coaching jobs. In fact, the colleges would be required by the government to hire a specific number of female assistant football coaches. Women would be able to take football coaching courses in our public high schools and colleges in order to prepare them for a football coaching career. No longer will a coach be interviewing for a job competing against all male candidates. Gender equity needs to come to the sideline and the good ole boy network that exists today will be a thing of the past. Give hope a chance, give the UT Vols a chance! I'm sure this system is a wet dream for Obama but hopefully it will never happen as it would kill college football. Football with all of its current warts is still the ultimate American team sport and it is pure, unfiltered competition. The last bastian of the American male...NCAA College Football and the NFL. Obama, the PC police, and everyone else please stay very far away! Roll Tide but watch out, as it should be, the SEC is gunning for you Nic!

January 9, 2013 at 9:53 p.m.

First of all I have never heard the term "objectifying" and since when does striving to be the best in any sport hurt that sport?

Does Tiger Woods hurt golf? Did Carl Lewis hurt track? Did the Celtics or the Lakers hurt the NBA? Did the Yankees or the St Louis Cardinals hurt baseball? Did the Dallas Cowboys or the Green Bay Packers hurt the NFL? Did Muhammad Ali hurt Boxing? Does Roger Federer hurt Tennis? Does Duke or did UCLA hurt College Basketball? Did the Montreal Canadiens hurt Hockey? Did Secretariat hurt Horse racing? Did Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt hurt NASCAR?

What the hell is this idiot talking about?

January 14, 2013 at 2:19 p.m.
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