Tide remains focused despite NCAA sanctions

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 2, 2002

BIRMINGHAM -- No Tide player ever entered Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione's office to discuss leaving the team in the wake of NCAA sanctions earlier this spring. Not one.

While there was concern that something like that would happen, Franchione said the fact no one left excites him.

"These guys want to be here," Franchione said. "They are excited to be University of Alabama football players. We have a close team, a team that likes each other. Our players take great pride in playing for Alabama. They could have left, but they decided to stay."

Because of NCAA sanctions, Alabama is not bowl eligible this season nor next season and is not eligible for a spot in the SEC Championship Game either. Alabama added a 13th game this season, which will take place on Nov. 30 in Honolulu against the University of Hawaii. Make no mistake, this was not a game UA had to schedule, it was one scheduled strictly as a reward for the players.

Senior Quarterback Tyler Watts said the team understands that and appreciates the gesture.

"We've been through some rough times at Alabama in the last several months," Watts explained. "For the athletic department to go out of their way, and this was out of their way, for us and add a game in Hawaii, that's a special feeling. We know they care."

Franchione said he knows the team understands they aren't going to Hawaii for a vacation.

"We are going out there to win," Franchione said.

Franchione indicated the trip, although another game the staff desperately wants to win, is a reward for the players. He also said that the group had pulled together when it had to and gotten closer and have established goals for the season.

"I'm proud of the way out players have focused ahead and not so much on what we don't have," the coach confessed. "We still have a lot to play for. We have 13 games and we want to win all of them. We want to be the best team in the West and in the league. We hope the best team in the league isn't in Atlanta in December."

Yet, even if Alabama accomplishes its goals in similar fashion as Auburn in 1993, it's season still comes to a close with no National Championship and no league title. That's why both coaches and players feel the Hawaii game is so important. It's a bowl game without a bowl game. Franchione said the decision to go was left up to the team.

"The players voted on whether or not to go to the game," Franchione said. "It was more or less unanimous, go figure. It's a bowl game for us and it's a game we are going to play to win. After the decision was made to go, though, several players came up to me and said "thank you" for giving them this opportunity. That meant a lot to us as a staff. That was as special for us as the game will be for them."