Joe Medley: A trophy, a strange round ball and priorities on display
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Jan 30, 2014 | 3813 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn sings the Auburn fight song as he accepts the Foy-ODK Sportsmanship trophy during halftime Thursday. (Photo by Butch Dill/Associated Press)
Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn sings the Auburn fight song as he accepts the Foy-ODK Sportsmanship trophy during halftime Thursday. (Photo by Butch Dill/Associated Press)
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There was a basketball game at Auburn on Thursday night. It was Auburn-Alabama, two teams that entered the game with losing records.

For those who missed it, it was two 20-minute halves of a strange sport played with a round ball, sandwiched around a halftime ceremony that mattered to people.

Yes, this was that annual night in the strange-round-ball season where the ODK Foy Sportsmanship Trophy is presented to the winner of the Alabama-Auburn football game. It was held at Auburn Arena this year, because the Tigers won the Iron Bowl.

There were the expected replays of Chris Davis’ 109-yard return of a missed field goal to win a game that will not soon be forgotten around the country. This week’s winter weather and resulting driving conditions kept the student body president of the losing school from showing to sing the winning school’s fight song, but we all know the drill.

It’s the main reason why people attend that strange-round-ball game every year. Heaven knows, neither basketball team gives its fan base much reason to care.

Heaven wonders, what would it take for either fan base to care?

A $92.5 million arena apparently won’t do it at Auburn. Tony Barbee, the only Auburn coach in Auburn Arena history, wasn’t fired after his second 20-loss season in three years.

Then again, that was a year ago, before Auburn launched into what’s shaping up as Barbee’s third 20-loss season. Auburn was just four months removed from paying former football coach Gene Chizik and his staff $11 million to go away. It would have taken another $3 million to buy Barbee out after the 2012-13 season.

Maybe $14 million in buyouts was too much for one school year, and football had to be handled first.

One losing football season — albeit Auburn’s worst in 60 years — was one too many for Chizik, who coached Auburn to a national championship in 2010.

Barbee can wait until buying him out becomes cheaper. What difference does another 20-loss season make in that strange-round-ball sport?

What difference does it make for a program that hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament in 11 years?

Then again, things aren’t much different at Alabama.

The Crimson Tide has been to the NCAA tournament four times since 2003, the last time both Alabama and Auburn made it. The Tide reached the final eight in 2004 and lost in the first round just two years ago.

But the program is far removed from those Wimp Sanderson days. Who remembers when Alabama won SEC tournament championships regularly, including four of five between 1987-91?

Some 23 years later, 20-win seasons with NIT berths don’t resonate much in a state where fans need a reason to suspend football brain. Crimson Tide basketball has slipped into mediocrity, and few care.

The football team has won three national titles in five years, after all. The Nick Saban Process Machine was No. 1 for most of this past season, and a five-star football recruit’s commitment trumps basketball news any day.

Alabama basketball won’t have the ODK Foy Trophy to draw fans when Auburn visits Tuscaloosa on March 1, so maybe the school should trot new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin out for special recognition at halftime.

Or, how about a one-night-only, special player rotation, where Alabama basketball coach Anthony Grant subs in an entire lineup of quarterbacks who will compete for the starting job this offseason?

No, Saban would never allow it. There’s injury potential in that strange-round-ball sport.

Come to think of it, has there ever been a time of such disconnect between football and basketball at Alabama and Auburn?

The two football programs have played in the past five national-title games and won four. The other was a classic, with Florida State beating Auburn on a touchdown with 13 seconds to play.

Alabama and Auburn football have spent half a decade tag-teaming at the top levels of major college football.

Meanwhile, the two basketball teams have combined for one NCAA berth and a 195-173 record over that span, including this season.

It’s chicken and egg. The basketball teams don’t give either fan base much reason to care. And if it requires fans caring first, then things won’t change much.

Oh, by the way, Auburn won Thursday’s game, 74-55

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Medley at jmedley@annistonstar.com.
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