What is not to love about a stadium that has stood the test of time? In an age where it seems like many pro stadiums last 30 or so years, 40 if they count their lucky stars, it is refreshing to look at college athletics and see venues that colleges have stayed true to.
Braly Stadium is one such venue. Although it is not a venue that will blow anyone away or one that is at the top of fans’ bucket lists, it is rich with history. The humble stadium of 14,215 has been around since before the Korean War (or The “Forgotten War” for my fellow US History buffs) and was the site of the Division II Championship Game from 1986-2013. Now its only tenants are the North Alabama and Florence High School football teams.
Last Friday, North Alabama announced a groundbreaking new on-campus stadium project. Given the WAC-ASun or United Athletic Conference’s ambitious FBS plans are in question, this seems to be a major step for the Lions to show Conference USA they are FBS-ready. Even if they do not go FBS soon, the Lions have a new stadium and facilities that will put them at the top of the United Athletic Conference on those fronts.
Uncertainty surrounds Braly Stadium now. Strangely enough, two other case studies in the same state provide insight. UAB and South Alabama recently opened brand-new stadiums after years at aging off-campus stadiums, with UAB leaving Legion Field and South Alabama leaving Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Birmingham and Mobile’s bowls followed UAB and South Alabama’s suit and fled to the new stadiums.
Both stadiums remain open but have struggled finding events to replace the six or seven home games and bowl games they hosted each year. Legion Field hosts the Magic City and Tuskegee-Morehouse Classics but has struggled otherwise as the “SWAC Classic” has fallen through the past two seasons. The USFL only used Legion Field after a conflict with the 2022 World Games.
Ladd-Peebles Stadium has had the same luck as they hosted the Gulf Coast Challenge and added one more HBCU Classic for this year. The stadium will also host the third annual HBCU Pigskin Showdown, which just moved from Marion, Alabama. Ladd-Peebles has had more luck hosting high school games but that is the most luck it has had.
The city of Florence can face the same situation as Mobile and Birmingham as Florence High School's football program uses the stadium too. They must choose between preserving history or giving Braly Stadium's land more utility for the greater community.
The decision for the city of Florence should be easier because it is much smaller than Birmingham or even Mobile. The size of those two cities allows them to utilize the older stadiums in those cities through lower-profile events like the USFL or HBCU classics. With all due respect to Florence, no promoter or alternative football league is rushing to place a team in the city.
A season of new birth and resurgence for the North Alabama football programs comes with doubt and possibly gloom for their longtime home. However, to avoid a messy situation like Birmingham or Mobile, it may be "Time to Say Goodbye" to an old friend.