Auburn vs. Alabama should always be played on Saturdays.
Since Bruce Pearl's arrival, the Tigers and the Tide will have played just seven weekend games. This rivalry deserves better.
PG Tre Donaldson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
In less than 48 hours, Auburn will host Alabama for a truly massive men’s basketball showdown.
Neville Arena will be sold out, like usual. The seats will be filled with fans trying to will their Tigers to a win in a revenge game against their most-hated rivals, and the overflow rails at both levels will cram the standing room only crowd trying to get a glimpse of the court, shoulder-to-shoulder.
The stakes on the floor have rarely been this high: Both teams are ranked. An Alabama win would keep its solo lead in the SEC title race intact. An Auburn win would put the Tigers in a tie for first place with eight games to play.
It will be loud. It will be intense.
But it could be better.
The rematch between Auburn and Alabama will be played on a Wednesday night.
A weeknight. A school night. A night where the adults have work the next day.
Auburn has had to deal with more than its fair share of 8 p.m. CT tip-offs this season, so a 6 p.m. start is better for most parties involved. However, it makes things tougher for the fans who have to hustle to the arena from their jobs — or for the students who have to line up a little earlier to get their seats in the Jungle.
Even though it’s more of a challenge for fans of all ages, attendance should still be strong Wednesday night. After all, it’s Alabama, and it matters a lot more than a matchup with struggling Vanderbilt or a non-traditional SEC opponent like Texas A&M.
But a midweek matchup is far from ideal for the fans in the stands or even the ones watching on TV.
And it’s a shame that both Auburn vs. Alabama matchups this season will have been on weeknights, especially with how well both teams are playing right now.
Compare the midweek vibe to the one you get for a Saturday showdown in the SEC.
Those are the games where students camp out in the cold to make sure they’re among the first ones in the building. They’re the games where celebrating fans will go down to Toomer’s Corner and roll it after the win — something that doesn’t happen very often late on a weeknight.
Those are the games that become entire planned-out trips for fans coming into Auburn from out of town. Like football season, the game is the event of the weekend.
Even Pearl himself got to experience some of that last weekend in Oxford, where he talked about enjoying a Friday night meal at City Grocery and hanging out on the Square. Auburn fans and Ole Miss fans alike packed the bars and restaurants after the game Saturday night. Many didn’t go back home until Sunday.
The Saturday games are the ones with the most juice. Auburn has felt that on the road at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas this season. Anybody who was in attendance for the ranked Auburn-Ole Miss meeting at Neville could feel the difference with it being a weekend matchup.
Just look to the women’s program. Auburn hosted Alabama last month for a Sunday game. The Tigers turned it into a massive weekend to honor DeWanna Bonner and showcase the progress they’ve made in a few years under Johnnie Harris. And the return trip back to Tuscaloosa will also be on a Sunday.
Everyone seems to win with a Saturday arrangement for a big-time basketball game. Yet it’s been more of the exception than the rule for an Auburn vs. Alabama rivalry that has turned into one of the best in all of college basketball in recent years.
Wednesday night will mark the 20th Auburn vs. Alabama regular-season game since Bruce Pearl took charge of the program. Only seven of those games have been on Saturdays.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
The most recent one came a year ago, when Auburn hosted Alabama. The year before that — when the Tigers celebrated a sweep over the Crimson Tide en route to a regular-season title — both games were on weeknights.
The series hasn’t played a pair of Saturday games in a season since 2017, the year before Pearl’s program broke out for its first conference championship.
That means that Auburn vs. Alabama hasn’t had its full and proper spotlight in a season since both teams went on their title-winning tears across the SEC.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just look at last Saturday in college basketball, where marquee matchups ruled the day.
Duke and North Carolina, the premier rivalry in the sport, had its first meeting of the season. The two Tobacco Road rivals haven’t played a midweek regular-season game against each other since 2019. By the time this season comes to a close, the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils will have played on Saturday 15 out of 20 possible times in the last decade.
Then there’s the SEC, where Tennessee and Kentucky squared off last Saturday in historic Rupp Arena. This is the second season in a row where both games between the Volunteers and the Wildcats will be on Saturdays. After their rematch later this season, 11 of the last 14 games between the two will have been on the weekend.
What’s keeping Auburn vs. Alabama from reaching that point, where it’s almost guaranteed to be in the Saturday spotlight?
TV is the likely culprit. ESPN knows that Auburn vs. Alabama can deliver a strong ratings number in a more competitive weeknight slot. The first matchup this season was on main ESPN, while Wednesday’s rematch will be on ESPN2.
ESPN also knows that it wants to put College GameDay-worthy matchups on Saturdays. Next weekend, Auburn will host Kentucky. That game will be on a Saturday, and it looks like it could be a GameDay contender — even with the Wildcats struggling in recent weeks.
But Auburn vs. Alabama won’t get that chance. It’s crazy that the television decision-makers who slot these games didn’t give themselves a chance to fully promote Auburn vs. Alabama this season. They’re truly missing out by not putting a marquee matchup in a marquee slot.
Auburn vs. Alabama has turned into just as important of a game for the SEC title race as any other in the conference in recent seasons. And it’s got the added heat of a rivalry that’s known for football but resonates with intense passion in literally any sport where they play each other.
“This one is personal,” Johni Broome, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, said shortly after Auburn’s win over Ole Miss on Saturday night.
Saturdays are for maxed-out crowds, both in the stands and in the towns themselves. Saturdays give college basketball the platform it deserves right now in this state, where Pearl and Nate Oats are both building consistent contenders at a level that this series has rarely seen.
On Wednesday night, Auburn and Alabama will face off for the fifth time as ranked opponents. Before that happened two years ago, it hadn’t happened since 1987. It should’ve happened already this season, but human poll voters put too much stock in Alabama’s win-loss record compared to who they played and how they played them.
And this is happening in an SEC that, on paper, has been higher-quality than UNC and Duke’s ACC for the last four seasons. Football will always command the most money and the most attention down here. But this is an everything conference, and there isn’t better proof than what’s happened with basketball in the state of Alabama.
Having that rivalry get burned off twice in a season in midweek time slots over what could be a pair of high-stakes Saturday showdowns is a disservice.
Neville Arena will still be on fire Wednesday night, just like Coleman Coliseum was a few weeks ago.
But a rivalry that has turned into one of the best in college basketball deserves the spotlight that North Carolina vs. Duke and Kentucky vs. Tennessee get much more often than not.
Send in your questions for this week’s Aubserver Mailbag to the1andonlyJF@gmail.com.