Cramming for Bama

Cramming for Bama

July 4th, 2010 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium has a capacity of 33,941, or roughly a third of what it takes these days to house Alabama's spring football game.

As Crimson Tide fans eagerly anticipate an early-season schedule containing Penn State, Arkansas and Florida, their most intriguing matchup from a logistical standpoint is a Sept. 18 visit to Duke. It's not often a Blue Devils home football game sells out despite their diminutive facility, yet this one will with two months to spare.

Contributed Photo Duke will host Alabama in the 2010 football season.

Contributed Photo Duke will host Alabama in the 2010...

"That is a huge game to us here," said Boo Corrigan, Duke's senior associate athletic director for external affairs. "Going back 20-plus years is what we've done, looking at numbers and those types of things, and you have to go back to when Steve Spurrier had a wonderful run here. We sold a lot of tickets when he was here.

"It's huge for our fan base to see us play the defending national champions, and it's a step forward for our program to play the game here versus selling it to another venue."

Wallace Wade Stadium will be the smallest site for an Alabama game since 1990, when the Tide defeated Louisiana-Lafayette (then Southwestern Louisiana) 25-6 at 31,000-seat Cajun Field. Extra seating was brought in for that contest, resulting in an attendance of 36,133, and Corrigan said that topic already has come up plenty of times regarding Alabama's visit.

"We've had people concerned about how many tickets we've sold so far," he said. "We're trying to sell as many as we possibly can, and then we'll figure out where we can put bleachers."

Duke has won four NCAA men's basketball titles in the past 20 years but had the worst football program in any BCS conference from 2005 to '07, winning just twice in 35 games. The Blue Devils hired Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe following the '07 season and have been noticeably better since, going 4-8 in 2008 and 5-7 last year.

Yet Duke's improvement hasn't always been reflected by the attendance, as its four Atlantic Coast Conference home games last year averaged 24,545, with a high of 26,211 against Virginia Tech.

Alabama ticket manager Chris Besanceney said the school received an allotment of nearly 6,000 but added that Tide fans have proven they'll go through different channels to get extra tickets. Corrigan said Duke's season-ticket sales are up 250 percent from where they were at this point last year but does not know how much of that is affected by Tide supporters.

"Going into the spring on this, we had numerous conversations with Duke about how many we could sell and where we would end up, knowing the size of the stadium," Besanceney said. "We probably have had some individuals who went through Duke directly. The game is going to be sold out, and there will probably be a large majority of Alabama fans there representing."

The game has been picked up by ABC and will kick off at 3:30 p.m.

Wallace Wade Stadium is a horseshoe-shaped facility that opened in 1929. In 1942, it became the only location outside California to host a Rose Bowl as part of several athletic events being moved from the West Coast following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Wade guided Alabama to a 61-13-3 record from 1923 to '30 before moving to Duke and going 110-36-7. He coached in three Rose Bowls with the Crimson Tide, leading the program to recognized national championships in each of those seasons (1925-26 and '30), and in two Rose Bowls with the Blue Devils.

According to Duke's athletic website, Wade made the surprising move from Tuscaloosa to Durham for the opportunity to direct the school's total athletic program, including intramurals for all students.

"The history there is definitely an element and will pique interest," Besanceney said. "This game is the return portion of the game that was played in 2006 (won 30-14 by Alabama). The other game got tabled and pushed, and this is where it landed. It just so happened that it landed on the heels of a national championship."

Said Corrigan: "This is a wonderful thing for us to have for our football program. Coach Cutcliffe has provided a lot of excitement the past two years, and this adds even more to it."