When will Alabama get a new basketball arena, what’s going on with Nick Saban’s office?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Welcome to the second part of the spring edition of the Alabama mailbag. It’s a busy time of the year with spring sports in full swing, football and men’s basketball roster reconstruction and transfer portal activity and being about six weeks away from June recruiting visits/camps starting. Simply put, there’s no shortage of interesting topics to dive into.

There were so many good questions this mailbag is split into two parts: shorter-term topics and longer-term topics. This mailbag will cover long-term topics, and the short-term topic mailbag can be found here.

Thank you as always for reading the coverage and participating in question submissions. Without further ado, let’s get into the latest mailbag.

Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.

With the success of Nate Oats and the basketball team, do you see plans for a new area being built any time soon? — Justin J.

It’s a relevant question considering the aftermath of Alabama’s season and Nate Oats shutting down rumors of a potential move to Kentucky. I honestly believe Oats turning down Kentucky, not the season, will create more momentum for a new arena than last season. Alabama is committed to Oats, but the university needed an equal commitment from Oats that he’s fully committed even if a larger basketball program calls. Now that the question is answered, there should be more comfort in investing in the program.

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I do expect to see more concrete details about a new arena down the road, but Alabama is on a two-timeline track of raising money in the short term and long term. And the shorter-term deadline is more of a priority at the moment. Athletic director Greg Byrne has been steadfast that contributions for a new arena are coming in at a healthy rate, but there’s an excess of money needed right now for other things to upgrade the program, like a larger NIL fund.

Retaining Grant Nelson and Mark Sears means a large financial commitment to be competitive with what each could get in the NBA via a two-way or minimum contract, which varies between $550,000 and more than $1 million. Alabama’s 2024 class is ranked No. 3 nationally, according to 247Sports, and is in play for another coveted transfer portal target in Clifford Omoruyi. The program needs to make sure it’s in position from a NIL standpoint to take advantage of this past season’s momentum to build another Final Four contender next season.

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Grant Nelson (2) and Mark Sears (1) are both weighing their NBA options. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

But structural upgrades are on the way soon. Oats knows the arena will come, but a priority has been made on upgrading the day-to-day experience of players, like upgrading practice facilities. Those talks have intensified since the conclusion of the season, and according to Byrne who made an appearance on The Next Round last week, will be put into motion “on a much shorter timeline.” The game-day experience is important, but the team practices more than it plays, so providing top-notch facilities where athletes will spend most of their time is pivotal, and it’s a move that will benefit the men’s and women’s programs.

The most important thing is that Alabama has Oats locked in for the long term; that alone ensures that the program will remain a viable contender. Now the onus is on providing the necessary resources to propel the program to a new level. They have to be because Oats stayed.



Alabama mailbag: What do Mark Sears, Kadyn Proctor decisions mean for Tide?

What does a best-case and worst-case scenario look like through the first half of the football season? — Matthew C.

Spring football is done, and it’s time to look ahead to the season with a clearer view after learning about the team through 15 practices and roster reconstruction via the transfer portal. The 2024 schedule is daunting, but for this question, let’s focus on the first six games of the season: Western Kentucky, South Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, at Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Let’s start with the bad.



Alabama football film study: The plays to remember from A-Day

I feel comfortable saying that Alabama will start the season 2-0. South Florida caused problems for Alabama last season, but extenuating circumstances led to that poor performance. I expect a bounce back at home in Week 2. The Week 3 matchup at Wisconsin is interesting. Alabama rarely travels that far for nonconference games, and Camp Randall is a raucous environment. Wisconsin’s 7-6 campaign last season won’t turn heads, but it was the first year for Luke Fickell, a proven high-level coach, including complete system changes on both sides of the ball. Now the program’s entering his second season and signed the No. 25 recruiting class in 2024.

In a worst-case scenario, Alabama travels to Madison in its first road game, and the crowd throws the offense off balance, the defensive question marks are still unresolved, and Alabama falls to 2-1.

An early Week 4 bye will give the team a chance to recalibrate, but Georgia, which presumably will be ranked No. 1, comes to Tuscaloosa in Week 5. It’s not hard to envision the worst case of how that game plays out, a revenge-minded Georgia avenges its 2023 SEC Championship Game defeat and gets its first win at Bryant-Denny Stadium since 2009. The Bulldogs likely will be favored in that game, not that it meant anything in December, but a worst-case scenario would give Alabama back-to-back losses for the first time since 2013 when the team lost the Iron Bowl and then the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma.

I’m confident in a Week 6 win over South Carolina, which would put the team at 4-2 through six games. Fortunately, in a new 12-team College Football Playoff era, it wouldn’t be the end of Alabama’s season, but there would be no room for error the rest of the way.



What does Graham Nicholson commitment mean for Alabama?

The best-case scenario is the Tide open the season guns blazing to a perfect 6-0 start, and it’s entirely possible. Alabama boasts one of the top rosters in football that has been upgraded in the last week: on the offensive line with Kadyn Proctor and kicker with Graham Nicholson, and the program’s not done trying to add more talent. The Georgia game is the biggest hurdle to a 6-0 start, but the game’s at home, and Georgia has question marks of its own, particularly along the defensive line. If Alabama’s offensive line takes a step forward at the beginning of the year and has confidence, it could tip the balance in the Tide’s favor.



What does Kadyn Proctor’s return mean for Alabama?

So best-case scenario: 6-0, worst-case scenario: 4-2. I’m leaning closer to 6-0 than 4-2, but it’s contingent on many factors, the biggest one at this point is finishing out the roster by filling positions of need with experienced pieces out of the portal.



Alabama in the transfer portal: Positions of need, chances for departures

How concerned should we be about the defense? The front was rarely gap-sound against the run in the A-Day scrimmage, and the tackling was atrocious. — Jason R.

I didn’t talk much about the defense in the question above because of this one. The defense’s A-Day performance wasn’t a good first impression, especially early on. A few things are working for and against Alabama’s defense, but my general thought is to not overreact to A-Day too much.

To Jason’s point, Alabama’s defense wasn’t very gap-sound early on, with safety Malachi Moore admitting as much postgame. The defense did bounce back in the second half, but it’s hard to remove the images of long runs and explosive plays offensively from one’s mind. One of the biggest things I’d point to is that Alabama’s defense did very little schematically early on to combat the offense. Kane Wommack’s defense is going to show a lot of different looks this fall, and we saw very little of that during A-Day for obvious reasons.

But you would want to see an experienced defensive line execute better. I believe there was a big emphasis overall on playing competitively but still protecting each other, which subconsciously could have affected the intensity of the game.

The defensive line is in good shape. It wasn’t a dominant day, but position coach Freddie Roach has built a group with at least seven playable options, and most of them have extensive experience. It’s entirely possible that it was just a good day for the offense as guard Tyler Booker noted that A-Day was collectively the best practice for the tackles.

The biggest question is can one or multiple veterans have a Justin Eboigbe-esque breakout season? Players like Tim Smith and Jah-Marien Latham have been in the program for years and have the opportunity to take a leap, but they have to play with enough consistency to make that happen. It’s worth noting that Jaheim Oatis was unavailable, and when healthy he’s a major factor. Linebacker Jihaad Campbell was out, and while Justin Jefferson flashed in Campbell’s place, there’s little replacement for what Campbell provides.

If there’s a concern defensively that’s not easily fixable it’s a lack of depth in the back seven. Linebacker Deontae Lawson has been dinged up in the past, the inside backers are young, the outside linebackers have recruiting pedigree but game experience is lacking, and there’s no secret about the youth in the secondary. Alabama will do what it can in the portal, but the onus is going to be on a lot of young players to grow up fast and fill depth positions.

I’d put the concern level defensively at marginal. The top-line starters are really good, but the depth is questionable. The summer and fall are going to be critical for the continued installment of the defense and for some of those young players to continue developing. Last year’s defense finished 18th nationally, and I feel like a top-20 defense is an attainable bar.

It’s early in the 2025 recruiting cycle, but it looks like almost all of the top 25 players are committed. How good can this class be without any of the five-star blue chippers we’ve come to expect? Where will this class land in the rankings? — Kirk M.

Alabama’s class is ranked No. 7 nationally, according to 247Sports with one five-star composite commit (linebacker Duke Johnson), seven four-star prospects and two three-star prospects. In a vacuum, seventh is low by Alabama’s standards, but there’s reason to believe that ranking will improve.

Technically, 11 of the top players are committed with several others trending toward one school or another. But it’s important to remember that commitments and rankings are written in pencil at this time of year, and Alabama historically has been a strong summer recruiting program that finishes strong in December.

Yes, it feels like Alabama’s on the outside looking in for some of the nation’s top-ranked players, but this new staff needs time to build relationships. Think of Alabama’s contemporaries in recruiting: Georgia, Ohio State and Texas among others, those schools have continuity (at least at head coach) that has allowed for multi-year relationships with the top players. Alabama’s coaching staff has just started that process. The biggest thing is getting elite players on campus to get a feel of the new energy. It has been effective this spring with eight commitments since March 1, and the upcoming summer months are going to be even more important to host elite players in 2025 and beyond to start building out those needed relationships.

There could be more good news on the way. Per multiple recruiting industry reports, Alabama’s in the driver’s seat for four-star edge Dawson Merritt, the No. 61 player nationally. Another name to watch is five-star cornerback Dijon Lee, who just completed a multi-day unofficial visit, his second visit in the last two months.

If Merritt commits, that will give Alabama five top-100 commits in the class, nine commitments since March 1 and commitments from players in six states: Alabama, California, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey and Kansas. Considering where the class was three months ago, that would be an impressive starting point. And Alabama’s original, biggest 2025 commit of all, Ryan Williams, is set to join the team in June. Had he not reclassified, we might be looking at this class in a different light.

The great equalizer on the recruiting trails in on-field results. Some programs have a ton of momentum right now, but lackluster seasons could sway things. What Alabama will look like on both sides of the ball when real games are played is a mystery, so once recruits see it in full force, it could give the Tide some momentum down the stretch. Rankings don’t always tell the full story, especially with coach Kalen DeBoer, who has a track record of elevating rosters.

But I’m fairly confident in a top-five finish (top-eight at the worst). That would be a solid first-year haul for DeBoer. The 2026 class, after a full first year on the field, will be a better determiner of his recruiting potential.

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Nick Saban retired after the 2023 Alabama football season and has a new office located above the South end zone at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (Wesley Hitt / Getty Images)

How long will it take until the Yea Alabama collective or the athletic department finally ponies up the much-needed funds to build Nick Saban an office with a window? Shouldn’t the “I” in NIL warrant at least a single window? — Ursula D.

For those who don’t know,  Saban has a new office located above the South end zone at Bryant-Denny Stadium and doesn’t have any windows! It’s a funny thought, but there’s some seriousness to it too: How could that be possible? But in some ways, it’s kind of fitting.

Saban’s new office definitely should have a window, if for nothing else some sunlight now and then, but I’m confident that if he disapproved, he would’ve been accommodated. I feel like that’s not his style anyway. Saban has handled the retirement gracefully: He’s an available resource for DeBoer, the staff and the players but isn’t meddling in the day-to-day operations. His office is on the opposite side from the Walk of Champions and his statue, so he doesn’t have to walk past it when he’s around. So Saban’s presence is lingering in the background but isn’t at the forefront of the program anymore. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, the presence of the greatest coach ever remains, and he’s readily available to help, but the new era can stand alone without worry of interference.

Plus, he probably won’t be in the office too much anyway. Between retired life and his upcoming gig on ESPN’s “College GameDay” this fall, I don’t see him logging a ton of hours in the office. It’s good to have a place at the facility because he is going to be an asset and ambassador for the university and community but doesn’t necessarily need a corner office with a view … even if he deserves it.

(Top photo of Nate Oats: Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

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