When Nick Saban talks, people listen. A mic consistently in the face is a byproduct of winning national championship rings for half his fingers. (That is correct by 3rd grade standards, when we all were giddy to learn the thumb technically wasn't a finger. Or by Alabama standards, where they awarded Saban a commemorative 5th ring for the thumb.)
As your may or may not know, the Big Ten is working toward eliminating I-AA games from its team's schedules. Saban was asked his thoughts on the Southeastern Conference possibly doing the same eventually.
"I'm for five conferences — everybody playing everybody in those five conferences," the Alabama coach said Thursday night before speaking at a Crimson Caravan stop. "That's what I'm for, so it might be 70 teams, and everybody's got to play 'em. …"
Seventy is a number that's divided evenly by 5. Of the five power conferences, the SEC, B1G, and ACC have, or will soon have, 14 full-time members. The Big 12 is chilling with 10 and the Pac-12 doesn't dig misnomers. These are probably the leagues Saban is talking about, and perhaps in his scenario the latter two move to 14 teams (14 * 5 = 70).
My initial impulse was to like this idea. The season is too short and precious to waste games on pay-for-I-AA-blowouts (JMU joke here) and uninteresting non-conference matchups ("LET'S PLAY ECU EVERY GAME" – Jim Weaver, probably). With the playoff, there's less of a chance for a loss to eliminate a team from national championship contention. Strength of schedule will be used even more to evaluate teams. Finally, with a 70 team pool, there will be more common opponents to apply the irrational Transitive Property of Football to.
I soured on it a bit when I started thinking about the flaws.
- I-AA schools depend on the cash the big boys payout to fund their programs and athletic departments. Tennessee-Martin athletics director Phil Dane said, "If the SEC should follow that trend, it would be a major concern for us because football guaranteed games are a very significant part of our business."
- It wasn't too long ago that Virginia Tech was an afterthought in college football, struggling to make a name for itself, and find a conference home. Saban's 70 team model leaves 6 seats at the table, with one reserved for Notre Dame. There are more than 5 schools that didn't survive expansion, but remain committed to football. Furthermore, who is going to force the Pac-12 and Big 12 to take in the stragglers?
- Most importantly, it wouldn't be the 70 best teams. Hello there, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Colorado, Boston College, Indiana, etc... I don't like handshakes and proximity trumping on-the-field product.
Am I for more competitive games? Always. Am I for crushing the little guy, and shutting the door on schools trying to move up? No. The rise of new era programs and powerhouses is something I've come to appreciate.
College football isn't very symmetric or homogeneous, it'll require unique, probably complex, solutions for its problems. Here's one: Eliminate I-AA games from the schedule, play I-AA teams instead of spring games. I-AA schools get a payday, boring spring scrimmages are eliminated, and look, an open spot in the fall.
Reformation, reorganization, separation, whatever you want to call it, may be inevitable because money is involved. This is what SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said regarding full cost of attendance being part of an athletic scholarship.
"Obviously, if things like that don't get accomplished, then it may be appropriate to talk about some alternative or division or something like that," Slive said. "But that's not our desire. That's not our goal and that's not something we're trying to get to."
He went on to stress that he hasn't been involved in any discussions concerning divisions however it's clearly another example of conference officials being concerned with the current state of college athletics.
The ACC's grant of rights halted expansion, but not change. The O'Bannon lawsuit, is happening, and who knows what else is around the corner. Sometimes I wish I could unplug, and wait for college football to figure itself out.