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Andy Hodges

Saban’s idea on league scheduling could be huge

Alabama coach Nick Saban sort of forced the answer to a question that wasn’t asked directly and he’s in favor or SEC teams playing nine or 10 league games. It’s not as far-fetched as you would think.

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For a gathering of media interviewing primarily other media, SEC Media Daze this year badly needed SOMETHING to liven things up.

Through the first three days it’s been about as plain as it can get. Lots of coach-speak and chest-thumping from the biggest and baddest football conference out there.

Then, as if on cue, in rides Nick Saban to the rescue.

And he knew the question of Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa would be on everybody’s mind.

“The number one thing that you will want to talk about is the quarterback controversy that you’d love to create, that you’ve already created, that you will continue to create, and I will tell you the same thing exists there,” Nick said. “It’s still to be determined as to who is going to play quarterback for Alabama. So you can ask all of the questions about it, but it’s still to be determined.”

Nick’s flair for the dramatic is probably not by accident. Very little of what he does is. It pretty much forced some creative questioning that Nick dodged when necessary.

But it was at the end of his appearance in the big room that he basically forced something into an answer that he apparently was wanting to get around to.

Many people just flat didn’t pay attention to it. Or get the significance of what he forced into an answer to a question about opening against Louisville in Orlando.

Nick would like to see the SEC go to playing nine or 10 conference games each year and no games scheduled against teams not in a Power 5 conference:

“I know nobody really asked this, but I’ve always been an advocate of playing all Power Five schools. I think we need to get … have more really, really good games on TV for the players. We can’t have fans who pay a lot of money for tickets and boxes and loges who support our programs to pay for games that no one is interested in watching.

So that’s … now, I’ve heard [SEC commissioner] Greg [Sankey] talk about the fact that we don’t want to play nine SEC games, but I’ve always been an advocate of playing nine or ten SEC games and a couple other games against some other good opponents that everybody would be happy to watch.

I think it would help us determine, to your next question, who should be in the playoffs. And you might not have to go undefeated to get into the playoffs, because there would be more games against high quality opponents, which would help determine who the best teams are.”

Yeah, I know. The first reaction among nose-in-the-air media traditionalists is how ridiculous that idea is.

But is it, really?

Sankey should pay real close attention and look at SEC history.

In 1990 the new commissioner of the SEC had what everyone thought was a completely insane idea. And I mean EVERYONE.

“That damn thing will kill anybody in the SEC ever winning a national title again,” ABC’s Keith Jackson told me in 1991.

Gene Stallings, then the coach at Alabama, said pretty much the same thing. His comments require more cleaning up than Jackson’s.

Yep, back when Kramer announced the SEC would go to two divisions and play a championship game the first weekend in December, most of the people inside the league thought it was the most insane idea they’d ever heard.

When the SEC went to 12 teams by adding Arkansas and South Carolina, everybody played eight league games. There five opponents from your own division, two permanent cross-over opponents and everybody else rotated.

Under that formula, there were additional rivalries building. For example, the Razorbacks and Tennessee had the makings of a pretty good rivalry developing until the league went from two permanent opponents from the other division to just one.

Now the league is beset by teams scheduling as few Power 5 opponents as possible. The Hogs got a great deal by Michigan dropping the series in 2018-19, then getting a waiver to not have to schedule a game against a big boy non-conference foe.

Chad Morris secretly is probably thankful.

Let’s face it, nobody plays more than a couple of non-conference opponents each year that really do anything for the fans or television.

Nick is right. Going to a 10-game conference schedule each year would make every game on the schedule a big-time sellout. At Arkansas, for example, would more tickets (and interest) be for a game in November against Tennessee than, say, Tulsa?

Athletic directors will complain it would likely cost them a couple of home dates every year. Maybe so, but there’s a way to make up that lost revenue.

Under the 10-game setup, each team would get five home games. This year the Hogs only have four. Even if playing Texas A&M in Arlington continued (which I doubt because A&M already wants out of that deal), Arkansas would still have the same number of league games at home, plus a more attractive non-conference game.

But the key part of this is what Nick didn’t address and it would make up for a game or two in lost revenue.

It gives the SEC an attractive carrot for a renegotiation of the television deals.

The SEC is not happy about ESPN’s buddying-up with the ACC for their network that starts next year. Some inside the league have told us there was an understanding when the deal for the SEC Network was created that ESPN wouldn’t do a similar deal with another conference.

To lock up the biggest league in a schedule that would be 75-83% all-league games and no outside opponents from weak sisters, you can bet ESPN would sit down and discuss an extension to the existing deal and the money goes even higher.

Oh, this idea probably won’t happen.

Coaches will kick and scream about it just like they did when the conference championship game started back in 1992. The athletic directors initially will be against it.

But the revenue numbers would be off the chart.

And don’t worry about the rest of the Power 5 conferences.

The SEC is the leader. What they do where “it just means more” is usually copied by every other league … sooner or later.

But if you think the SEC is big now in college football, it would be unreal going to a schedule like this.

Nick is right that it would be better for the fans and, eventually, all of college football. Want more than four teams in the College Football Playoff? This would get you there.

Oh, and the money would be even bigger.

Which is the key to this becoming more than water-cooler chatter during the talking season.

 

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