Saban is on to something with scheduling

May, 15, 2014
May 15
10:30
AM ET
Alabama coach Nick Saban had the most to gain with the SEC's decision to keep conference play at eight games. But the league's best and most successful coach during the SEC's run of seven straight BCS national championships wanted things a little tougher.

[+] EnlargeAlabama schedule
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsAlabama coach Nick Saban has some ideas on scheduling that are worth listening to.
Saban, who has three national championships at Alabama, wanted nine conference games per season. The coach who has greatly benefited from the traditional eight-game conference slate felt it was better for the league if it made things harder for everyone.

I can respect that, and I also respect the fact that Saban is still pushing for the league to make things harder. On Wednesday, Saban continued his stance on beefier schedules by saying he thinks teams in the Big 5 conferences -- SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 -- should only play teams from the Big 5 conferences.
"If it was totally up to me, I'd say you've got to play all 12 games in the Big 5. If we did that, I think we would be less averse to playing more conference games because I think we have such a great conference. But I don't think anybody's going to be in favor of that until we change how you select bowl teams. I think you ought to do it based on the RPI and strength of schedule and all that for all bowls."

I like this idea. When the SEC decided to keep the eight conference games, I said it was a good move by the conference. From a business standpoint, there was no point in changing if the product was working. Adding the mandatory Big 5 nonconference game in 2016 was also a good move when it comes to strength of schedule, which will be used in determining who makes the new College Football Playoff.

Oh, and remember when the SEC got blasted for keeping its format? Well, look at the ACC. It's sticking with eight as well, so maybe the SEC isn't so bad after all.

While I'm all about better games and a much better fan/eye experience, the SEC didn't need to make things harder on itself until its hand was forced. But Saban's idea to keep games within the Big 5 is perfectly fine with me. I understand what FBS vs. FCS games do for the smaller schools from a money standpoint, but it really is killing the product at the FBS level. You have weeks sprinkled throughout the season where cupcakes dominate schedules, creating mostly snoozer matchups.

Sure, you're going to get a Georgia Southern-Florida every once in a while, but those upsets are far from the norm. If you're a fan, are you pumped to see your team take on Georgia Southern or Oklahoma? Nicholls State or Michigan State?

Big 5 opponents, whether it's Oregon or Syracuse, are going to put more people in seats and more eyes in front of TV sets than any FCS opponent would. Of course, that means more green in pockets.

I really, really like this idea by Saban because you can still keep eight conference games and make things more competitive with the rest of the country. The arrival of the four-team playoff could really make college football even more exciting during the regular season. We could get dream matchups every week instead of having to wait until bowl season, when our excitement sometimes fades. And schools should be more inclined to toughen up the schedule without the win-or-go-home BCS formula hovering over their heads.

The other idea Saban mentioned was changing the bowl eligibility format. If you're going to make the schedule tougher, you have to change how you pick bowl teams. Saban says don't just restrict it to teams with at least six wins; add an RPI and make strength of schedule a priority.

Now we're talking. Reward teams who purposely make things tougher during nonconference play.

Saban's onto something here, and people listen to what he says. He might not get everything he wants, but people are always listening. And hopefully they're listening now.

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