Being a Blazer isn’t always easy in the state of Alabama. Neither is being anything else, for that matter. Our team clothing options are limited to on-campus stores or small racks in stores like Academy and Lids. Our TV exposure isn't as great as it probably could be. In addition, some people just can’t grasp in their mind how anyone could pick any other school other than Alabama and Auburn. It actually upsets them.
There are a great many stereotypes about the state of Alabama. Many of them deal with sports. It’s actually quite disturbing to see the lack of knowledge people have about something they want to talk about all the time. To many people here in Alabama, college sports means nothing more than SEC football.
The state of Alabama is home to two of the nation’s more prominent college football programs. They also happen to belong to one of the most powerful conferences in college sports, the Southeastern Conference. The University of Alabama and Auburn University garner the vast majority of national attention during football season. Due to the SEC’s very lucrative contract with ESPN, they now also position themselves for prime exposure during basketball and other sports seasons.
But what else is Alabama home to? Obviously, living in the Birmingham area, it is hard to avoid UAB. It’s nearly half of the downtown area at this point. But how many other universities are there? How many other Division-I schools are there in this state other than Alabama and Auburn? The answer is seven. There are seven universities that compete on the same intercollegiate level in the NCAA as the Tide and the Tigers. Of those seven, two also compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision -- the highest level in college football. Those two are:
The other schools competing in the upper echelon of college sports in Alabama are:
The five schools above compete at the highest level of NCAA athletics in all sports except football, where they participate in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision). Instead of being eligible for bowl games like Auburn, UAB, Alabama, and Troy, they participate in a playoff system if eligible at the end of the regular season. In a side note, schools without football are generally called just Division-I, without any FBS or FCS attachment.
All schools listed here can play in the same tournaments otherwise. And despite what some natives of Alabama think, there ARE in fact other sports besides football. Basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, etc. are all very profitable and exciting NCAA sports. You could see any one of the fine educational institutions above compete in the same championships. The “big two” aren’t necessarily the best in any of the other sports either.
There’s no shame in being an alum or student at any university. Nor is there any shame in simply being a fan of any of these schools. There is shame, however, in being small-minded and ignorant when it comes to talking about something that probably 95% or more of people in Alabama hold dear-- college sports.
College sports are not all Alabama and Auburn. College sports are more than just the SEC. The SEC is only one conference out of 11 in the Division-I FBS level. Three Division-I FBS conferences are represented in Alabama- Conference USA, the Southeastern Conference, and the Sun Belt Conference. South Alabama is currently an FCS independent, but scheduled to fully join the Sun Belt in the future. There are 14 FCS conferences. The Southern Conference, the Ohio Valley Conference, and the Southwestern Athletic Conference all have members in Alabama.
So what is really being said here? Give credit where credit is due. The SEC isn’t the only game in town. Far from it, actually. Each university has their strengths and weaknesses as far as sports go. Each also have their own history and tradition. Don’t belittle any other school because you don’t know about it. They just might be able to beat your favorite team in something.
Talking college sports is more than talking SEC football. That’s a lesson that a lot of people and the local media should better try to understand. Be proud of your school whatever it is. Whether it is Division I, II, or III, know your stuff and respond to any questions or attacks people may have about your university. Don’t be afraid to bring out the academic punches either. After all, that is what school is really about. If it flies over their heads, they aren’t worth arguing with anyway.
By no means are all college sports fans like the aforementioned ones, and there are many worth talking to about all sorts of different sporting events, college and otherwise. It’s just very unfortunate for those who really enjoy college sports as a whole that they must deal with the same kind of small-mindedness that plagues Alabama’s political spectrum when trying to have a conversation about sports. Sports, after all, should really help give us a break from things like politics. In this day in age however, it seems they go hand-in-hand.