Alabama usually draws home crowds befitting the biggest juggernaut program in college football. The Crimson Tide averaged 101,722 fans at their home games in 2017, according to the NCAA. They’re typically around No. 5 in average national attendance, give or take a few spots. That’s despite their stadium only being the seventh-biggest in the sport by capacity.
But sometimes, Bryant-Denny Stadium isn’t packed. When it hasn’t been, Saban has gotten publicly mad at his own fanbase.
He’s a man concerned about attendance in general. He’s long proposed that Power 5 teams should only play each other so that more people go to games.
And over the years, he’s trained his criticism specifically at Bama fans.
In 2013, he complained about fans leaving early during blowout wins:
“I’ve talked about players playing for 60 minutes in the game and competing for 60 minutes in the game,” Saban said. “And, in some kind of way, everybody that choses to go to the game should stay there and support the team for the game.”
He also had a solution to the issue.
”Maybe if you’re not interested in doing that, you should let someone else go who would really like to go because I have a lot of people who want to go,” Saban said.
He suggested it could hurt Alabama’s recruiting to not have a full stadium throughout the game. Like all teams, the Tide often have visiting recruits on the sideline. The Tide’s seven-year streak of No. 1 classes, which was ongoing at the time, suggests that the program probably wasn’t too badly hurt by early departures.
Alabama then suspended block seating privileges for 20 student groups. Block seating is what allows fraternities, sororities, and other student groups to sit in packs:
My sense of it is, I always say the fans are a part of the team,” Saban said, according to the Anniston Star. “Everybody else should have the same sort of commitment. You don’t have to do the work all week, you don’t have to practice, you don’t have to come in at 7 in the morning and leave at 11 at night, you don’t have to do any of that stuff.
”All you have to do is come to the game, drink beer, do whatever you want, party in the parking lot. I’ve never been at a tailgate in my life. All I’m asking is that you just come and have fun and stay for the whole game.”
Before Week 5 of 2018, Saban again complained about his fans’ turnout.
The Tide had previously played home games against Arkansas State and Texas A&M, two teams they beat without any drama. But Saban didn’t like what he’d seen in the crowd.
“I’m looking in the stands now,” Saban said on his radio show, according to the Anniston Star. “It never used to be this way. It’s half-empty. Why should the players stay committed if you can’t?” (Saban had, in fact, complained five years earlier about it being this way.)
Then, in Week 5, Saban’s team hosted UL-Lafayette. The score was 28-0, Tide, before the end of the first quarter. And this is what the student section looked like right before kick, to the displeasure of Saban’s boss (technically):
Fans, thanks for being here for the early kick today.— Greg Byrne (@Greg_Byrne) September 29, 2018
Students, we need you at BDS the last four games. #RollTide pic.twitter.com/iv3dtZokBn
Saban followed up on the Wednesday after by playing the hits:
Nick Saban goes on a heated rant on how he was "disappointed" to see the student section half-full during the Louisiana game. #RollTide pic.twitter.com/QM77uwbRRt— Kyle Burger (@kyle_burger) October 3, 2018