An interview with AL.com published on Thursday evening has Nick Saban making headlines. The four-time BCS championship-winning head coach shared his opinion on scheduling in the next era of college football, most notably touting a nine-game SEC schedule (good) and a five-conference alignment wherein only those members play each other (not so good).
Saban’s ideas are earning praise around the college football community.
— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) May 10, 2013
Saban is on a roll. Mentions “the guys who whine about their fixed rivalries” re: 9-game SEC schedule. al.com/alabamafootbal…
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) May 10, 2013
Now, Saban’s advocacy of the nine-game SEC schedule would seemingly have little to do with based on the “guys who whine…” comment. LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles decried the conference’s scheduling imbalance, specifically citing how it determines a champion. Regardless of Saban’s motivation is a more balanced road to the postseason. The current, eight-game league schedule means teams go without facing five, or nearly one-third of their conference counterparts.
While it’s impossible to make the dockets completely even, more opportunities to see common opponents provides a more fair measure of a championship race.
Furthermore, the Pac-12 and Big 12 both play nine conference games. The Big Ten is going that route in 2016. A move to uniformity with the College Football Playoff kicking off in the 2014 season is critical to provide the most balanced measure for making the field.
A nine-game schedule would also cut down on SEC games against the FCS, a move the Big Ten is making in the coming years.
The five-conference scheduling alliance obviously refers to the so-called Group of Five: those leagues with immediate access to the College Football Playoff and upper echelon bowl games. The Group of Five is the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12.
Achieving a level of schedule uniformity would seemingly necessitate such an agreement. However, it’s not that simple. Like with 12-to-14-team conferences, it’s impossible to craft the schedule in a way that every team plays a similarly challenging slate. The Cal Golden Bears could play two top 25 teams such as the Northwestern Wildcats and Ohio State Buckeyes — which Cal is doing this season even without Saban’s idea in place — but another team in its conference could draw Kansas and Illinois.
College football is seemingly sprinting from its tradition in an effort to become NFL Lite, but even the NFL cannot craft perfectly matched schedules. The Denver Broncos play the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars out-of-division, for example.
Make no mistake, an NFL model is the ultimate endgame here. Those who care only about the top 20 or so college football programs welcome that, but how many of those programs had to build up from lower stature? Would the TCU Horned Frogs and Utah Utes have their seats in the Group of Five had they been barred from playing the Big 12 and Pac-10 out-of-conference in the previous decade?
By locking out the other five conferences from regular season opportunities, the Group of Five is making a clear distinction that Div. I football is a caste system without upward mobility.
A program like Boise State is told to prove itself on the field. The Broncos have responded with wins over the Oregon Ducks (twice), Oregon State Beavers, Virginia Tech Hokies and Georgia Bulldogs in recent years. Saban’s idea would replace the glass ceiling that separates the Boise States and BYUs with concrete.
The answer some have suggested is an English Premier League style of relegation. Boise State, Northern Illinois, BYU, etc. can move up into the Group of Five based on annual performance, and the top tier’s cellar dwellers move down. It’s an interesting concept, but wholly unrealistic. Neither the NCAA, nor the College Football Playoff committee, nor the conferences themselves are going to convince or force the Dukes, Colorados and Indianas to agree.