Every summer, as the temperatures rise and the reservoir of offseason college football questions inevitably begins to evaporate, Nick Saban is making the rounds. He appears at the SEC Meetings at Destin, Fla., SEC Media Days and ESPN’s self-styled “Car Wash,” all functions that are crowded with reporters. The spotlight is squarely on him. He doesn’t have the seniority of Bill Snyder, but if there is a voice of college football these days, Saban is the one with the gravitas. Thus, his answers when asked about NCAA rules, or player safety, or scheduling, are news, establishing a position on topics that are frequent topics of debate.
For the most part, Saban’s answers are consistent over time. For example, he has been a consistent, if isolated, advocate for expanding the SEC schedule to nine-league games. That’s been a talking point for a few years as other leagues have adopted nine-game schedules while the SEC and ACC have resisted and remained at eight games.
On Wednesday, Saban upped the ante — and the foundation of his modified plan made great sense. Instead of moving from eight league games to nine, Saban said at his various stops around Bristol, why not make the sensible move to 10 SEC games a year? He went on to discuss an expanded playoff plan (presumably, this would render the increasingly dinosaur-looking SEC Championship Game extinct). Before parsing through those ramifications, though, let’s look at why 10 league games make sense.
First, it does away with the unwieldy scheduling aspect of a nine-game schedule, which is the necessity of an imbalanced home/road schedule. There’s an inherent “roll of the dice” factor when some league teams get to play five conference games at home and only four on the road. The imbalanced schedules haven’t killed the Big Ten or the Pac-12, of course. A wart on the nose might not kill you, either, but that doesn’t mean it looks good.
With 10 games, though, schedules would be balanced. The luck of your cross-divisional draw wouldn’t be so crucial — if the SEC even stayed with divisional play at all. They serve no real function without a championship game. Fans would get to see their team play every other SEC team every two or three years instead of having a near-decade gap between Alabama-Georgia or Auburn-Florida games.
Saban also would like to see the remaining two games reserved for Power 5 opponents, either at neutral sites or — do we dare to dream? — home-and-home contests. It might make more sense to mandate one additional Power 5 opponent and then let the 12th-game opponent be at the school’s discretion. There will have to be some flexibility for athletic directors and coaches worried about what 12 Power 5 games might do to their won-loss records and whose main objection to expanding the schedule is psychological. With a 10-game league schedule, a pretty good team might finish its year at 6-6. That will still get them a bid to the Purina Hearty Lamb Chunks Bowl or whatever, but that’s cosmetics on a pig — if fans perceive that way. Better to let everyone play in whatever postseason event cares to invite them than to sacrifice decent in-season games for .500 records.
Would it shake up the status quo? Yes.
Last week, the SEC Network announced its slate of games for the first three weeks of the 2017 season. Among the opponents you’ll get to see: UT-Martin, Missouri State, Alabama A&M, Mercer, Northern Colorado, Eastern Kentucky and more.
Is that really a tradition that’s worth fighting for?
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.