Nick Saban is a great football coach. He's proven himself on the football field and off. He recruits well, motivates his players, and wins football games. But his team is so good that fans sometimes don't even bother going to the game. A lot of people don't see the point in driving all the way to Tuscaloosa for a game that's not likely to be much of a game.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article (paywall), only 76.7% of the tickets distributed to games at Bryant-Denny Stadium are actually scanned on game day. That's still a great crowd -- 3rd best in college football. But people watching on TV will often see wide swaths of empty seats, mainly in the student section. Of course, the students live close to campus and really should be able to make the game.
So that's what Nick Saban addressed in his press conference this week. Bama's head coach said he'd never seen the student section half full for a game before, and he offered a solution:
"Me personally, I think it ought to be first come, first served. And if they don't want to come to the game, they don't have to come but I'm sure there's enough people out here who would like to come to the games and we'd like for them to come too because they support the players. So, I've never said anything about that before."
This is certainly a case of Nick Saban standing up for his players. They aren't blind and clearly noticed the smaller crowd at Saturday's game against Louisiana. Check out Thomas Fletcher's comment about Penn State's big crowd this past weekend: "Must be nice to have people come to your home games."
And in response to another person on Twitter, Fletcher said that Alabama has "lost our home field advantage."
Students aren't going for any number of reasons, but as we've pointed out, they aren't the only people staying home. How do you get people to go to a game that's not likely to be all that competitive? You could schedule stronger opponents, certainly, but Alabama has blown out everyone this season. The games haven't been exciting, because you already know who's going to win. Looking ahead, Alabama might have only two truly competitive games left on the schedule -- and only one (vs Auburn) in Tuscaloosa.
So that leaves the Alabama Crimson Tide and most sports teams facing lots of empty seats and looking for answers. (Auburn also scans fewer than 80% of its tickets on game day. South Alabama, on the other hand, scans more than 95% of its tickets). It's not only about getting fans to show up, but also to stick around and support the team and its players. In the age of ginormous HDTVs, that's a harder sell by the day. But it's still so frustrating to see a stadium less than 80% full when so many others would like to go and see their team -- and yet can't get tickets. That's what Nick Saban would like to change, and I can't blame him one bit.