In November 2014, SB Nation embedded with the Tuscaloosa Police Department for 36 hours during the Iron Bowl. Alabama beat Auburn, 55-44, in a sold-out Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was loud and crowded, and some folks went to jail.
As part of our reporting, SB Nation asked one question that went unanswered in our initial story. When a football game becomes so big that security concerns demand a substantial outside police presence, who pays for it?
The short answer: not Alabama, home of one of America’s wealthiest athletic departments.
1. Policing an Alabama football game is expensive.
The Tuscaloosa Police Department spent $544,459.50 on overtime pay to police all seven Alabama home games in 2014, according to documents obtained by public records request.
If previous seasons are an indicator, that number will grow. As the Nick Saban era reached new benchmarks in on-field success and revenue, the cost of policing more highly populated games has risen accordingly.
During the Tide's 2009 national championship season, TPD spent $430,396.20 for 11,035.8 hours of overtime to work seven games, according to documents.
In 2010, Bryant-Denny's south end zone was expanded to break 100,000 seats in capacity, and by the 2011 championship season, TPD broke the half-million mark in overtime spending, recording $517,471.50 for 13,268.5 hours, according to documents.
2. Alabama football games are very profitable.
When a city the size of Tuscaloosa (population 96,122 as of 2014), which includes the University of Alabama (total enrollment of 36,155 as of 2014), swells to twice its size on a SEC game day, football becomes a revenue machine. According to the New York Times, Crimson Tide football has been the catalyst for $1.7 billion in fundraising in the last decade.
"[Alabama's athletic department] is in the event management business," athletic director Bill Battle said Wednesday at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York City. "We participate in about 400 events a year. We host about 200. Sometimes we have 150,000 people come to Tuscaloosa for a football game to sit in 101,000 seats. That's a challenge in a lot of different ways, but that's a great thing.
"But even when you have a successful football program, our [football] business generates about 80 percent of what our mission is," with that mission defined as being "to develop and graduate student-athletes into good people."
"If we want to truly accomplish our mission for all 500 of our student-athletes, it takes a lot of money to do that," Battle said. "Nobody is pocketing a lot of money. Not many [schools] are making ends meet."
In 2014, Alabama athletics listed a $33 million surplus and $95.2 million of the $153 million in total revenue brought in came from football specifically, per financial documents filed with the NCAA. USA Today's financial database lists Alabama as the nation's fourth-largest athletic department in 2014 revenue, behind Oregon, Texas and Michigan.
Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
3. The city of Tuscaloosa is paying to police Alabama football.
According to the city of Tuscaloosa and the Tuscaloosa Police Department, Alabama athletics did not reimburse Tuscaloosa PD for working on campus to secure Bryant-Denny in 2014.
After multiple public information requests filed by SB Nation to the city and university, no evidence has been produced that the university has ever reimbursed its home city for hundreds of thousands of dollars of city labor spent on football games each year.
4. The University of Alabama has its own campus police force, but TPD runs game days.
Tuscaloosa PD is the law enforcement agency with the largest presence of uniformed police in and around Bryant-Denny, which sits on university property yards from the city of Tuscaloosa.
Citing security concerns, TPD will not release an exact number of officers inside Bryant-Denny but released an estimate that "150 to 160" of the 286 sworn officers work on game day.
During our embed with TPD, SB Nation was able to confirm that at least two TPD officers worked the vicinity of each of the 135 public sections of the stadium, with a higher concentration in areas where opposing fans mixed and with the exception of the Alabama student section.
TPD operates everything from helicopters to assist in traffic flow to surveillance to a mobile command center one block from Bryant-Denny. It's installed each game week for the purpose of processing arrests in and around the stadium as well as from bars along University Boulevard, known locally as The Strip.
"They want us everywhere but the student section. It's easier for campus PD to work the student section," one TPD officer said during the Iron Bowl.
Officers were also posted in the entrance ramps and concession areas at each level, and any "blind" areas -- portions of the facility out of sight from the larger crowd -- such as tunnels or ramps that see high traffic before, during and after games.
If you counted 1.5 officers per non-student sections in just the lower bowl of the stadium, that means at least 43 TPD officers would be working at any time. During SB Nation's embed, I witnessed teams of TPD officers policing the stadium as early as six hours before kickoff and two hours after the game ended.
5. It's normal for a major football program to use off-campus police ... if it pays them.
Alabama isn't alone when it comes to non-campus law enforcement working game days. The difference, at least in the Southeastern Conference, is that Alabama's the only one not paying for it.
- In January, the Baton Rouge Police Department invoiced LSU for $355,320 for policing seven home games at 102,321-seat Tiger Stadium in 2014, according to documents received by SB Nation.
- Georgia receives monthly invoices from the Athens-Clarke County Police Department for "on-campus and post-event traffic patrols" at 92,746-seat Sanford Stadium. UGA provided SB Nation a paid invoice that claims $45,048.19 for four home games' work in 2014.
- The College Station Police Department confirmed Texas A&M does reimburse for on-campus policing on game days and provided SB Nation with a payroll summary that claims $34,858.57 for the 2014 season.
- The Columbia Police Department provided SB Nation a reimbursed invoice that claims $10,080 for policing on campus during the 2014 Missouri football season.
- The Lexington Police Department provided SB Nation a reimbursed invoice that claims $32,304.98 for the same for time frame for Kentucky.
- South Carolina and Tennessee stated that they contract local and regional law enforcement as temporary university employees for game day policing. The Starkville (Miss.) Police Department confirmed the same structure with Mississippi State.
- At Auburn, the campus and city police forces are one.
- A spokesperson for the Nashville Metro Police Department stated that they do not work Vanderbilt football games.
- Local police departments for Florida (Gainesville), Ole Miss (Oxford) and Arkansas (Fayetteville) confirmed they receive reimbursement for officers working in stadium and on-campus. Ole Miss also confirmed that the university police department employs off-campus police at an hourly rate on game days.
No other SEC program receiving outside police or emergency services on campus and/or in its stadium during football game days operated without a form of compensation, according to documents received in our reporting.
6. What could paying the reimbursement money change?
From February 2009 to January 2015, TPD spent $2.9 million in overtime costs over six Alabama football seasons, per documents received by SB Nation.
"No one thinks that the money would go back to salaries, but that amount could go to a lot of different places. Vehicles, training, just more resources," a source inside of Tuscaloosa Police Department said.
One of the most popular and expensive new areas of spending for local law enforcement is training for terrorism at public events. In Tuscaloosa’s case, Bryant-Denny would qualify as what retired FBI agent and security expert Jim McGee terms a "hard target," with the surrounding areas on the city and campus side as "soft targets."
"Generally the thing I see that police departments need is training. Training is a big piece to the equation, how to respond to an incident in that type of [game day] environment in a stadium, with that many people accumulated in that spot at that time," McGee said.
McGee estimates that a simulated exercise for Bryant-Denny with multiple law enforcement agencies and stadium and university personnel could cost as much as $500,000 for a weekend of work.
"If you try to host a field training exercise that’s expensive, you can burn through money very quickly. But if and when the time comes and it’s the real deal, you’ve at least thought about it and worked with your other first responder counterparts, university police, facilities managers, what we consider your family in the facility. So spending $500,000 could go a long way to shore that up and build those relationships between all the players involved."
The original story
The original story
7. The city of Tuscaloosa has started the conversation, but it's waiting on Alabama.
Walter Maddox has been mayor of Tuscaloosa for 10 years, including during the 2011 tornado that destroyed 18 percent of the city. Maddox has held office during the tenures of three different UA presidents.
He stresses that the university has been "an unbelievable partner," but said discussions for reimbursement have stalled through multiple leadership changes at Alabama during his time as mayor.
"When people visit Tuscaloosa, we are very cognitive of their safety and security, and we want to provide that at the highest level," Maddox said. "We would love to see the beginning of a reimbursement structure, but at the same time, we are not going to sacrifice the safety and security of people who come to Tuscaloosa to enjoy Alabama football.
"I believe the city views [policing Alabama football] as our opportunity to add to a first-class game day environment and be part of something special that creates a high quality of life in our community. Although, we certainly understand that with the post-9/11 and now post-Paris environment, that a continuing need to increase security assets will be called upon. We’ll continue to engage the university as we have in recent years about looking at a structure where some form of cost reimbursement can be achieved."
Multiple requests for comment to Alabama Athletics were not granted to SB Nation. Through a university spokesman, the University of Alabama issued this statement:
Throughout the year, UA and the City of Tuscaloosa work collaboratively to make sure visitors to the Tuscaloosa community experience a safe and enjoyable event regardless of the reason they are in Tuscaloosa. Regarding home football games, the city and UA are each responsible for scheduling and budgeting for the overtime hours of their respective police officers during football season, just as they are for the rest of the year. Based on the most recent information (2013-14), UA’s home football games generated $129.8 million for the Tuscaloosa economy, an average impact per game of about $18.5 million.
Alabama did not elaborate on its financials regarding the claim of an $18.5 million economic impact per game or how that number was determined. LSU’s Tiger Athletic Foundation issued a similar study that claimed a $397.5 million impact for four parishes in the Baton Rouge area during LSU home games in 2012. However, Baton Rouge P.D. confirmed it was reimbursed for policing inside Tiger Stadium and on campus that season.