TUSCALOOSA — About 21 years ago, my newspaper at the time had this idea that we ask newsmakers how the world would look in 100 years.
I asked Mal Moore, then the Alabama athletics director, what changes he thought we could see in Crimson Tide sports that many years in the future. He actually gave a thoughtful answer: college football exhibition games.
Before the regular season began, schools could play an exhibition game or two against other schools. Moore thought it would be another way to develop revenue for college athletics programs that had ever-expanding budgets. He wasn't the first or the last athletics director to look at the growing bills confronting him and say, "Let's pay for it by adding more football games."
On a day spent at Bryant-Denny Stadium watching Alabama's hum-drum 48-14 win over Mercer, Moore's long-ago suggestion came to mind. Maybe it has a place in the current college football landscape.
Maybe you could shift these games to the start of the seasons and call them exhibitions that wouldn't count on a team record.
It's a better way to package these mismatches, which are put together mostly as a way to fill out the schedule. Mercer got a paycheck of about $600,000, while Alabama got a home game that netted the Crimson Tide a healthy profit. As for the outcome, that essentially was decided when each school's athletics director signed the contract.
Pretty much all the tickets were sold, but by kickoff, it looked about 20,000 short of that. By halftime, at least 10,000 more seats were empty. Early in the fourth quarter, about as many seats were empty as filled.
Alabama looked uninspired at the start, which was oddly surprising considering how angry Nick Saban got this week when speaking about how his players still had plenty to prove.
On the first two drives, the Tide was forced to punt. Then Alabama blocked a punt, returned it for a touchdown, got an interception and drove for a quick touchdown. After that, everything was pretty much back to normal.
If the FBS wants to expand its playoff to 12 teams, why not trim down the regular season? The season is already too long, even without a larger playoff. It didn't hurt the fun of football last year when FBS teams played an abbreviated schedule. Instead of 12 games, make it 10.
Give a bigger cut of the pie to non-Power Five conference NCAA schools so maybe they won't have to rely so heavily on handouts from the larger schools.
Still, teams like Alabama wouldn't like the idea of losing a home game (or two). As a way to replace them, play a couple of exhibitions instead. You could use spring game rules: no kickoffs, and no rushing the punter or the place-kicker. Coaches could agree beforehand how long to play first-team players against first-team players.
Schools still could sell tickets and make money. We would be calling these games what they are — non-competitive exhibitions.
Coaches would hate it, of course. What coach would want to show off his team's offense or defense in a game that doesn't count? Those would be some vanilla-looking exhibition games. Also, some of these FBS coaches want these games to make their records look better.
Going 4-4 in your conference doesn't look so blah when scheduling four non-conference patsies turns that into 8-4.
It's doubtful athletics directors would go for the idea of trimming the schedule, either, even with adding exhibitions. Say what you will about an Alabama/Mercer or Auburn/Alabama State game, but those games still put more butts in seats than they would if you slapped the "exhibition" label on them.
Anyone who would rather see Alabama go play another Power Five team, those games are on the schedule. Wisconsin, Florida State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Arizona, Virginia Tech and Boston College are set for home-and-home series with Alabama in the next 15 years. So is Oklahoma and Texas, but their imminent move to the Southeastern Conference makes the fate of those series uncertain. Still, they'll play, but we don't know yet when and how often.
But, even with one or two non-conference Power Five schools on the schedule each year, Alabama still will need the occasional Mercer to come to Tuscaloosa to take a beating for a paycheck. A home-and-home series nets one home game in two years, while playing an FCS team guarantees a home game, which brings all the money that a home game brings.
To make its sizable budget, Alabama still needs a certain number of home games.
And, really, is it really that bad to have one or two of these Alabama/Mercer mismatches a year?
If you're an Alabama season-ticket holder, hold on to your seats for when Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU visit and give away your tickets for the dog games to somebody who wants them.