Alabama Scene

Our mixed-up priorities

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at:

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at:

We now have the fifth-largest football stadium in the country.

Hot darn.

Take that, you lowly fans in California and New York and elsewhere…that is except Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Tennessee, where there are ones larger than ours.

A $65-million expansion at Bryant-Denny Stadium has pushed its seating capacity to 101,821 making it the nation’s fifth-largest stadium. The south end zone work, recently completed, has added 9683 seats, including 36 luxury boxes.

“We’re all just very proud and pleased as to how it has turned out,” Tide athletic director Mal Moore said. “If you sit on the 50-yard line and look north, then look south, what you see is identical.”

Bryant-Denny now stands behind only Michigan (109,901), Penn State (107,282), Tennessee (102,455) and Ohio State (102,329) in seating capacity. It features new video boards, along with a wrought-iron fence and brick-lined avenue along the sidelines. Red and white camellias are expected to bloom in the fall. The project took 22,380 cubic feet of concrete, 175,000 bricks, and 16 months.

Nick Saban thinks it looks great. “I believe we had one of the best venues in college football before we made the addition of the end zone. Now we’re over 101,000 people, and I think now that we may be among the top two or three venues in terms of a place to play college football of anywhere in the country. I think it’s a beautiful stadium, I think it’s a great place to watch a game.”

OK, it looks fantastic. So now what will Auburn do…tear Jordan-Hare down and build a brand new one…and at what cost…$500 million?

Contrast the grand coliseum in T-Town with another news item this past week.

Alabama finished dead last in its attempt to obtain federal funding for schools in the “Race to the Top” challenge. Some have blamed the utterly dismal showing on the Alabama Education Association’s opposition to charter schools.

But even if Alabama had received all 40 points available for having charter schools, we would have moved only from last place to next-to-last among the 36 states that applied in the federal competition’s final round.

Alabama scored 212 points out of 500 in Race to the Top. With charter schools, it would have passed Montana but lagged behind Mississippi and still would have needed 190 more points to secure any funding.

AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert told me this past weekend that state officials never asked for his input or showed him a copy of the application.

We can play football in opulent settings, but we can’t adequately educate our children. What that says about us is not flattering. Nice is wearing thin

Our two gubernatorial candidates have played it nice for a while, but things got a bit testy at the Arab Senior Citizens Center last weekend, as Robert Bentley and Ron Sparks appeared at a forum.

Sparks criticized state Rep. Bentley for promising to be governor without taking the position’s $112,000 salary until unemployment drops to reasonable levels. Sparks, the state’s commissioner of agriculture and industries, said that unlike Bentley, a wealthy doctor, he would have to take the pay to live and help educate his grandchildren.

Bentley also said he opposes Sparks’s idea of an education lottery even though three neighboring states…Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee… are using such a lottery to help pay for college education for thousands of young people. Bentley asked: “When has it become the government’s job to provide a college education to every child?”

When Rep. Bentley first talked about not drawing pay as governor it occurred to me that such a position dramatically projected an elitist position like “Hey, I’m wealthy; I don’t need that flimsy $112,000 salary.” I fully expected a TV spot showing Sparks mowing his grass and saying just what he said in Arab.

As to the education lottery, again I believe Rep. Bentley is off key. Thousands of Alabamians are paying for kids in Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida to attend college. Why don’t we get smart and spend that money on our kids?

But I don’t pretend to be a political guru. I lost the only race I ever ran.