ATLANTA – The top-four matchup between Alabama and Georgia brought up some discussion this week that it may be time to re-evaluate conference championship games and the College Football Playoff.
Alabama coach Nick Saban suggested there could be improvements made to the playoff system during his radio show on Thursday night. He was asked if he would be in favor of dropping conference championship games and expanding the playoff to eight teams.
“To be quite honest with you, I don’t think there’s a perfect system that we have right now and I think there’s some imperfections in the system that we do have right now,” Saban said. “I think that in our case and in Georgia’s case, both, we’re in the top four, so if you didn’t have playoff games, we would be in the playoff if you didn’t have championship games. There’s other schools, whether it’s Notre Dame or whoever fits into that category, that they don’t really have to play in a championship game. If they had to play Georgia, would they get in the playoff? If they had to play us, would they get in the playoff? So it’s not really a level playing field in terms of if you have a championship game.”
Alabama enters Saturday’s SEC championship ranked No. 1 in by the College Football Playoff selection committee, while East champion Georgia is No. 4. Saban recalled the 2012 season, when Alabama narrowly held off Georgia to win the SEC championship before overwhelming Notre Dame in the national championship game.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said on Friday in Atlanta that he still thinks players, coaches and fan bases are interested in conference championship games. He also cited his experience working with the Southland Conference in the FCS to caution that expanding the playoff may not be the answer.
“I think four is healthy,” Sankey said. “I think the debate is healthy. And I think the debate is an important part for all of us who are thoughtful looking at our future, without any prediction of outcomes.
Later in his answer to the same question on Thursday night, Saban said that an eight-team playoff with no conference championship games might be an improved system. He also advocated for taking a big-picture look at the issue for college football overall.
“It’s not a perfect system the way it is now. I think if we eliminated the (conference) championship games and put eight teams in, it would make it even better. But I think the downside of that would affect a lot of the other bowl games in a negative way. I said when we started this whole playoff thing years ago, ‘It’s going to minimize the importance of bowl games. And bowl games are a tremendous, positive self-gratification for a lot of college football players, teams and people involved in programs. That it’s going to minimize the importance of going to a bowl game.’ I think that’s happened. That was a unique thing about college football that we don’t really have anymore. I think the bigger you make the playoff, the less important the bowl games are going to be. We’ve had players that choose not to play in a bowl game now.
“The whole system, I think, probably needs to be evaluated to figure out what really might be the best way, but for the whole college football deal. I mean, every team, everyone. Is it just about the playoffs? If it’s that, we ought to just put 16 teams in the playoff and not have any bowl games. Just keep playing games like they do in Division II and all that. But if it’s important for the balance in all these areas, then I think that has to be taken into consideration as well.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.