COMMENTARY — [Note: This column has been updated from the version which ran in Wednesday's print edition, to reflect Alabama's win in the NCAA softball championship Wednesday night.]
This may be a bitter pill for Auburn faithful to swallow, but their arch-rival is having a year for the ages.
The Crimson Tide has won four national championships, and just missed winning a fifth last week.
The titles in hand: football (of course), gymnastics (yeah, we’ve seen that a few times), softball and women’s golf (no, we haven’t seen those). The Tide finished second in men’s golf to Texas, coming down to a Longhorn birdie on the final hole in the last match — about as close as it gets.
No, I’m not sure how Alabama suddenly became a golf powerhouse. My own experience with the sport involves windmills, clown mouths and red or yellow golf balls. But apparently the Tide have built themselves into somewhat of a national power in recent years, which is something you probably hadn’t heard about on JOX or The Zone — somehow I can’t imagine one of Paul Finebaum’s regular cast of characters teeing off about teeing off.
To top it all off, the Tide softball team came back from a first-game loss to Oklahoma in the best-of-three finals in the Women's College World Series, taking the title with a 5-4 win win in a rain-delayed game Wednesday night in Oklahoma City. That team includes second baseman Danae Hays, who played on multiple state champion teams with Mortimer Jordan.
So what is it about The Capstone that has suddenly turned the school into a force to be reckoned with in sports other than football?
Well, football itself has a lot to do with it, of course. “Success breeds success” is an old saying, but it is rooted in truth. And in college athletics, it manifests itself in two ways.
First, when the football team is at the peak, other sports tend to follow in kind. This isn’t always true, but in Bama’s recent history it has been. Gymnastics has been a dynamo of its own, as Sarah Patterson has seen her teams lift six national championship trophies. And yes, Mal Moore, she deserves a statue of her own.
But more importantly, when the football team is at its peak, it generates money like drunken Congressmen with a budget bill. And that money goes in large part to fund the so-called “minor sports,” from maxed-out scholarships to top-flight facilities. Rhoads Stadium is probably the finest softball park outside of the ASA Hall of Fame complex where the WCWS is staged, and this season the Tide’s average attendance per game was near the seating capacity of more than 3,000. On average, Tide softball draws more fans per game than most minor league baseball teams. Hey, maybe Hoover should reconfigure Regions Park for softball when the Barons leave.
For whatever reasons, it is clear that Alabama athletics is currently in its golden age. Football is the fuel that propels the big crimson bus, but with the success of the other sports, the school is poised to be one of the dominant names in all of college athletics, and a point of pride for even those few Alabamians who don’t care for football.
Even Nick Saban would approve.