In Alabama, passion for the mighty Crimson Tide washes over the entire state. Consequently, when head football coach Nick Saban speaks, people listen. So last week, when Saban blasted Bama fans for leaving games early, the university listened.
"My sense of it is, I always say the fans are part of the team," Saban said on his radio show last Thursday. "Everybody else should have the same sort of commitment. You don't have to do the work all week, you don't have to practice, you don't have to come in at seven in the morning and leave at 11 at night, you don't have to do any of that stuff."
Never mind the fact the fans also don't receive a full scholarship, Saban continued:
"All you have to do is come to the game, drink beer, do whatever you want, party in the parking lot. I've never been at a tailgate in my life. All I'm asking is that you just come and have fun and stay for the whole game."
Alabama beat Arkansas 52-0 the Saturday before Saban's comments. This past Saturday the Crimson Tide rolled over SEC rival Tennessee 45-10. Both games were at home and both were officially sold out. But as was clearly evident, there were plenty of empty seats during the second half of the Arkansas game:
The Alabama student section has better things to do during the second half. pic.twitter.com/NZVivESPZg- Jonathan Biles (@Jonathan_Biles) October 20, 2013
So the university responded. A majority of Alabama's student organizations (20 out of 36 groups, many of them fraternities) were stripped of their block-seating privileges for the Tennessee game. The move followed an email student government association president Jimmy Taylor sent to student leaders the week before:
"I am sending this e-mail to remind you to ask each of your organization members to stay for all four quarters of the Crimson Tide football games," Taylor said in the email obtained by The Crimson White student newspaper. "This is certainly important for all UA students, but organizations with reserved seating have signed an agreement to stay until the conclusion of the game."
Organizations that violate that agreement can lose seating for later games or receive point deductions on seating applications the following year. According to al.com, the block seating suspensions did not mean extra tickets were available for Saturday's game. Instead, any UA student with a ticket was allowed to attend the game, but suspended student organizations did not have reserved seats in the South end zone.
Apparently, Saban's plea and the move by the university worked. The stadium was basically full at the end of the Tennessee game, even as Alabama jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead.
Saban: "We appreciate our fans. They stayed for the game and supported our team."- Marc Torrence (@marctorrence) October 26, 2013
And here's the visual proof:
Fourth quarter student section. They're sticking around. pic.twitter.com/G8didfWNfM- Marc Torrence (@marctorrence) October 26, 2013
As AB's Paul Steinbach detailed earlier this year, student attendance at football games isn't just an issue at Alabama. Schools are trying different methods to attract students to games and keep them there. Maybe Alabama is on to something. Steinbach gives his perspective, including a direct reference to Alabama, in this video: