It's something that's good to see. As many of you know Alabama is going to play at Mercer this season, but there's plenty of other "name" schools doing the same.
Another factor is the rising cost of guarantee games, contracts that pay smaller schools a fee (the current market rate is $50,000-$75,000) for one-off, nonreturnable contests. Over the summer, Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried entered into a "two-for-one" agreement with Mercer of the Atlantic Sun. Mercer will host a matchup on Nov. 13 in Macon, Ga., in return for two trips to Tuscaloosa in 2008 and 2009.
"The guarantee money is getting pretty high," said 11th-year Mercer head coach Mark Slonaker, who handled Georgia's schedule as an assistant in the early '90s. "Things go in cycles. We're coming back to a two-for-one mentality. More of the big schools I talk to and bring up the two-for-one deal are receptive to it, when they used to scoff at the idea. Alabama was having trouble filling their guarantee games, so Mark and I started talking about it again. Our facility is good, they have a local guy on their team [freshman Senario Hillman from Irwinton, Ga.], and Mark had a good similar experience with Alabama State. He felt like it didn't hurt his team to take them on the road for a game that they should still win.
"A lot of coaches might be afraid of scheduling games like this," said Gottfried, whose
Crimson Tide won at the SWAC's Alabama State 72-54 on Dec. 7, 2004. "I think it can only make a team better."
Perhaps the most important reason to leave the cozy confines and play elsewhere, anywhere, is the potential NCAA impact once March rolls around.
"If you're a team that's a very solid tournament contender, then it doesn't make much difference," Gottfried said. "But if you're a team that ends up on the bubble, and the committee sees that you're willing to take your team on the road, wherever it is, it's a good thing. So we're going to Mercer, we're going to Texas A&M. In my talks and dealings with the committee members, they think that's important. And anything that helps our chances to go to the NCAA Tournament, I'm willing to do."