VOL. 132 | NO. 154 | Friday, August 4, 2017
The Press Box
CFB Scheduling: Alabama’s Saban Wrong as He is Right
By Don Wade
Riley Ferguson stands with American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco.
“I’m all about Power 6,” the University of Memphis quarterback said. “We’re definitely the top conference other than the Power 5.”
Tigers center Drew Kyser goes even further. He says if a certain famous coach from a Power 5 school is saying they should only play other Power 5 schools – and that is exactly what Alabama’s Nick Saban is saying – then the reason is obvious.
“They’re just scared,” Kyser said. “Nobody wants to get beat by the underdog, by little brother.”
The second part of that statement, not wanting to lose to an underdog, is absolutely true. But the first part, about being scared?
No doubt there is an element of fear on opening week for Vanderbilt, which starts at Middle Tennessee State. Like Memphis, the Blue Raiders were 8-5 last year.
Nick Saban, however, is not scared of schools outside the Power 5. Florida State, which plays Alabama on Sept. 2 in Atlanta, has his attention. But it’s difficult to imagine he’s losing sleep over Fresno State’s visit to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 9.
So what’s his motivation?
In a national interview, Saban said scheduling this way would allow for a change in how bowl teams are determined. A power rating system, similar to what drives the selection of NCAA Tournament teams in basketball, could be used to determine bowl assignments/playoff teams.
“If we did that,” Saban said, “people would be a little less interested in maybe bowl games and more interested in expanding the playoff.”
At first glance, this might seem entirely self-serving. But consider: Under the current four-team playoff system that started with the 2014 season, Alabama has been involved all three times and won a national title.
Saban advocates for a mega-playoff – 12 teams.
“Now you can have a different kind of scheduling that (generates) more fan interest,” he said. “We all play three or four games a year that nobody’s really interested in. We’d have more good games, more public interest, more fan interest, better TV.”
Obviously, this would give a team such as Alabama cover if losing to FSU in the opening week or in the SEC Championship Game. But Saban’s not wrong about the schedule having meaningless games. Mercer at Alabama on Nov. 18 is a joke.
And if you’re a Memphis fan, do you even know the opponent here on Sept. 23 one week after UCLA comes to town?
It’s Southern Illinois, an FCS school. So a Group of 5 program such as Memphis has clutter on the schedule, too.
The problem: Saban’s agenda pushes college football even more into separate universes of the Power 5 Haves and the Everybody Else Have Nots.
When I asked Memphis coach Mike Norvell about Saban’s comments, he initially answered with an artful dodge. When I pressed on, he said of the game with the Bruins: “It’s a great opportunity to showcase our program. To have a team like UCLA coming into the Liberty Bowl, already tabbed as a national broadcast, you’re dang right I’m excited about it.”
So where does that leave us?
Truth is, Saban’s right that the SEC and other Power 5 leagues would benefit from not playing Memphis, Middle Tennessee State, Fresno State, etc.
But Norvell and Tiger players are right, too. They deserve the chance to compete in September, if not at season’s end in a playoff.
The chance for an “upset” keeps college football relevant in ways that the likes of Nick Saban can no longer comprehend.
Every now and then, the underdog needs to be thrown a bone.
Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.