Is Auburn Really Alabama's Little Brother?

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Is Auburn Really Alabama's Little Brother?
Vandy fans after beating Auburn: Mike Rapp, Vandysports.com

For decades, Auburn University has lived in the shadow of The University of Alabama.  Called Alabama’s “Little Brother,” Auburn fans take exception in light of recent success in football. So recently, a commentary by Ronnie Sanders on the Auburn Undercover website caught my eye that took up this issue with a piece entitled, “Nobody’s Little Brother.”  

I plan to provide copious evidence as to why Auburn University has been, and likely always will be, The University of Alabama’s proverbial “little brother.” 

In the piece, Sanders’ ONLY argument is to provide statistics in football since 1981, which does indicate that Auburn stands tall with Alabama in gridiron accomplishments during that time frame.

But remember, Benjamin Disraeli, former UK Prime Minister, is attributed with saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Sanders, conveniently, chooses his statistical time-frame to begin in 1981.  If it began in 1960, 1970, 1990, 2008, or heaven-forbid 1892 when football began at both schools, the figures would look much different—much more “little” for Auburn. 

Since Sanders is using statistics from athletics to make his point, why does he not contrast achievement among other sports at the schools? Is it right that institutional perception and pride be based on one sport and conveniently within a restricted time-frame in that sport? This is why he does not. 

That's one long ponytail.

We all know Alabama’s history in football—13 national championships to Auburn’s two and 22 Southeastern Conference titles to seven, and a 40-34-1 Iron Bowl record.

In arguably the second most prominent sport, men’s basketball, Alabama holds an 84-55 edge over Auburn and has a winning record against every SEC school except Arkansas and Kentucky. Alabama’s .623 winning percentage (1464-884-1) ranks 32nd best nationally. Auburn’s .534 winning percentage (1176-1027-1) is 182nd (if I counted correctly). 

In baseball it’s much of the same. Alabama owns a 139-115 edge against Auburn, and shockingly has a winning record against EVERY conference opponent. Men’s tennis has been dominated by Alabama with a 55-29-1 record against Auburn. 

Alabama is a perennial powerhouse in gymnastics (which includes four national championships) and softball. In fact, Alabama has not lost a gymnastics meet to Auburn in over 30 years. Yes, you heard correct, over 30 years totaling 101 meetings. 

For softball, ‘Bama dominates the series 33-13 and is currently on a 10-game winning streak against Auburn. By the way, ESPN.com is following the Alabama softball team this season in their “Inside the Program” series.

The Tide owns the series slightly against Auburn in women’s tennis 27-24, and dominates in volleyball 42-24. In women’s hoops Auburn does hold a 37-31 edge on the Tide.      

Meaning Alabama's 13th national championship

Oh and let’s not forget Auburn’s claim to fame— swimming and diving in which it owns eight men’s and five women’s national championships. But even in that sport, Alabama’s combined team record is 10-22 versus the Tiger swimmers. 

Neither Alabama or Auburn list team records in men’s and women’s golf or track, so I’m not sure how each school stacks up historically. But, Alabama’s men's golf team is currently ranked fourth (Auburn eighth), and Alabama’s women's golf team sits atop the national standings at numero uno (Auburn 22nd). 

Let’s not forget Auburn’s 2006 equestrian national championship. Kudos there as Alabama doesn’t have an equestrian team. But Alabama does have the reigning back-to-back national champs in the up-and-coming sport of women's wheelchair basketball.

And, ‘Bama’s Cheerleading squad just won the 2011 national championship. 

By the way, as a disclaimer, all of these figures are from the latest media guides and NCAA Records Books shown online, some of which may be a year out-of-date. 

Okay, so now that athletics is out of the way and it’s obvious that Alabama OWNS Auburn in collegiate athletics, let’s look at other measures of “little” versus “big” that are missing from Sanders’ analyses. 

What about the college choice of students? Of 5,469 new in-state freshman attending either UA or AU in the fall 2010 term, 57.5 percent chose Alabama, 42.5 percent chose Auburn. That’s one-third more students choosing Tuscaloosa. 

Alabama's "Walk of Champions" before the 2008 Iron Bowl

Auburn administrators may claim they are under an enrollment cap as an excuse for that, but that does not comport with hyping the record enrollment for the Fall 2010 term on the AU website. Total enrollment for the Fall 2010 term was 30,232 at Alabama and 25,078 at Auburn. 

What about a measure of public support? Well, every Alabama driver has a chance to purchase a collegiate car tag (i.e., license plate). It’s a de facto donation to the school to fund scholarships. 

In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the Alabama Department of Motor Vehicles reports that 72,425 UA tags were sold compared to 48,595 for AU. That’s just under 50 percent more for Alabama. Alabama tags outsold Auburn tags in 57 of the 67 counties and produced almost $1.1 million more money for scholarships at the Capstone.

Incredibly, nearly half (46.1 percent) of all collegiate tags purchased for all 26 participating schools this past year bore the words “ROLL TIDE ROLL” across the top. 

And, how’s this for a shocking statistic. The disparity between Alabama and Auburn is getting even larger despite the magical season in football for the Plains-folk. For the first three months of the 2010-11 fiscal year (Oct-Dec), Alabama revenue from tag sales is up 15 percent from last year, while Auburn’s is up 5 percent.         

What does all of this mean? In recent political lexicon, we have become acquainted with the terms “red state” and “blue state” to denote political preferences (Red being Republican, Blue being Democrat). When you look at all of those “red” (Alabama) counties and so few “blue” (Auburn) counties it is clear that Alabama is a RED state, and the state’s official bumper sticker should read, “My kid and my money go to Alabama.”    

87,451 screaming fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium

To recap, Alabama dominates Auburn in athletics, dominates Auburn as the school of choice for in-state students and dominates Auburn in public support as measured by collegiate car tag purchases. How do the two fair on a national and cultural stage?    

The University of Alabama’s history is almost unending and had national consequences for decades. Not all of it has been positive, of course, but the tradition and legacy of “Bama” transcends time and geography. 

Wilson Groom, author of Forrest Gump, once said, "By having him (Gump) play football for Alabama, I guess that was the breakout of the novel."

In the middle of their 2010 magical football season for Auburn ESPN chose to do a commercial featuring who? Here’s a hint. “ROLL TIDE: IT’S NOT CRAZY, IT’S SPORTS.”  

Also last year, country singer superstar Trace Adkins released a song called, “Ala-Freakin-Bama.” Here are some of the lyrics, “I can roll with the flow, baby you can roll with the Tide… Ala-freakin-bama, Roll Tide Roll…” Country singer Buddy Jewel did likewise in 2003, “Sleepy sweet home, Alabama, Roll Tide Roll.”

How about the 1995 movie Crimson Tide, “Alabama, Sir… Go Bama, ROLL TIDE!.” The 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama which is replete Alabama references, the Doobie Brother’s song, and on and on.    

101,821 screaming fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium

The University of Alabama is embedded in the fabric of American culture. Heck, speaking of fabric, UA is associated with the duotone houndstooth textile pattern. Where is Auburn University embedded? Obscurity or controversy.

The night Auburn was playing Oregon in the football national championship I got a text from a friend of mine in Pennsylvania. She asks, “Is Auburn in Alabama?” That right there tells it all.

Once you get outside the confines of the southeast, very few people have a clue where Auburn University is located, and why should they. Outside a ten second reference about Auburn and Cadillac Williams on CSI in 2005, or late-night comic jokes about the Cam Newton affair recently, who three states away from Alabama would know anything about the Plains-folk?    

In conclusion, to be a “little brother” denotes being within a family. Having been witness to characteristics associated with each fan base, however, I contend there is no shared bloodline between the two. The relationship is more of a Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.

But, the two schools and fan bases are in a quasi-marriage of sorts given history and proximity.  Thus, it’s my contention that there is a sibling bond, with Auburn being the “little step-brother.”    

One cannot look at all the facts and figures presented here and see anything other than The University of Alabama as being dominant in all comparative aspects. As Joe Friday would say, those are “just the facts, Ma’am.”

If Ronnie Sanders and the Auburn University fan base want to base their self-perception on a portion of one chapter in their long history, then so be it. Alabama does not need to cherry-pick within their history book.   

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