Nick Saban is upset.
For years, Alabama’s coaches suggested that the SEC expand its conference schedule. That would be good for the sport, he said. (No argument here.) Give the fans what they want, he said. And they want more high-stakes conference fights. (Sermon!) An expanded conference should mean more conference games, he said. (Say it louder for the people in the back!)
And now that the SEC may be months away from approving a nine-game schedule?
Now Saban isn’t happy because he doesn’t approve of Alabama’s proposed three rivals it would have to play every year: Auburn, LSU and Tennessee.
Never mind that Alabama already plays each of these teams annually. Never mind that Alabama had beaten the Vols for 15 straight years until losing to a last-second field goal last October. And regardless, these teams are Alabama’s top rivals, and maintaining those streaks would be good for the sport.
Now Saban is demanding an unassailable competitive balance that has never existed, especially over the past three decades when the SEC has been split into two departments that have often been imbalanced.
“If you’re going to play more (SEC) games, I think you need to get the three solid (rivals) right,” Saban told Sports Illustrated. “They give us Tennessee, Auburn and LSU. I don’t know how they come up with that (decision).”
What does Saban have up his sleeve? Certainly he can’t expect the SEC to balk at their rivalry orders now. If the SEC reversed course, it would look like obvious pandering to Saban and Alabama.
This edition of SEC Football Unfiltered, a USA TODAY Network podcast, is hosted Blake Topmeyer And John Adams Unpack what Saban’s motivations might be for such a public rebuke of what remains a likely outcome.
Some have questioned whether Saban thinks he can get the SEC to let him vote for Alabama’s rivals, but Saban certainly knows that even his power has limits.
More likely, he’s planting a seed in the minds of Alabama fans and, more importantly, the college football playoff selection committee, that his Crimson Tide will face daunting schedules year after year.
Saban is not overwhelmed to seek political support. Remember his media outing in December, where he shamelessly tried to convince the CFP selection committee that Alabama, with two losses, was playoff-worthy?
That front-end sound-off about Alabama’s unbearable schedule could live on in the minds of the selection committee after the CFP expands to 12 teams if seeding becomes particularly important.
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Currently, the difference between a No. 2 or a No. 3 playoff seed means the color of a jersey.
In 2024, the difference between a No. 8 seed and a No. 9 seed is going to make a playoff game or play on the road.
The difference between a number 5 and a number 7 means that you will play number 4 instead of number 2 in the quarterfinals.
Sowing will be of paramount importance.
Of course, Saban wants to be number 1 and earn a first-round bye. But the SEC is only eligible for one reunion each year, and in an expanded 16-team conference, the challenge of winning an SEC title grows. So it depends on the sowing.
With every playoff expansion and every SEC growth, life in Alabama gets a little tougher. However, expectations do not change. Maybe they should give in a little.
Dominating the BCS era was one thing. Then came the four-team playoff. By 2024, teams must survive a season of up to 17 games to win a national championship, with fewer cupcake games baked into it.
Saban’s stomach ache sends a message: A 12-team playoff and 16-team SEC could make national championships a little harder to get close to.
Alabama fans should hear this. And the selection committee is hearing about Alabama’s strong schedule a year before the 12-team playoffs debut.
Later in the episode
– It’s March, so how about some rings! The SEC may set a conference record with eight NCAA tournament qualifiers. The league is strongly characterized by good teams. But Final Four teams? We don’t see any.
– SEC coaches named Alabama’s Brandon Miller Player of the Year, and Texas A&M’s Buzz Williams and Vanderbilt’s Jerry Stackhouse shared the Coach of the Year award. Adams says Alabama’s Nate Oats got his attention, but Adams and Toppmeyer both agree that Missouri’s first-year coach, Dennis Gates, was the most deserving receiver. The Tigers were picked to finish 11th in the SEC. They are fourth-seeded in the conference tournament and are selected by the NCAA a year after the 12-21 finish. Gates was named SEC Coach of the Year by USA TODAY Network.
Blake Toppmeyer is the SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. John Adams is senior columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. You can subscribe to her podcast, SEC Football Unfilteredor check them out SEC Unfiltered Newsletter, Delivered straight to your inbox.