In 2024, Texas and Oklahoma are set to join the Southeastern Conference, and the SEC is expected to move from an eight game conference schedule with two divisions, to a nine game, divisionless format with each team playing three permanent foes and rotating the other six conference games. While Nick Saban has always been in favor of playing more conference games and playing tough non-conference opponents, in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger, he displayed his displeasure with Alabama’s proposed three permanent opponents and how it would be unfair and unbalanced.
“I’ve always been an advocate for playing more [conference] games,” Saban told Dellenger. “But if you play more games, I think you have to get the three fixed [opponents] right. They’re giving us Tennessee, Auburn and LSU. I don’t know how they come to that [decision].”
With the addition of Texas and Oklahoma, Saban believes that an eight game model would be better for balance. In an eight game model each team would have their traditional rival as a permanent opponent and the other seven games would rotate, but it appears that the nine game model is the direction the league is moving toward approving.
To choose a team’s three permanent opponents, the SEC was expected to base them on primary and secondary rivalries, geographical footprints, and balance and parity. Supposedly the SEC is using a 10 year success metric to come up with the best balance of permanent opponents for each team.
“They said they did a 10-year whatever,” the coach says. “Well, some of those years, Tennessee wasn’t as good as they’ve been in the previous 10 years, but now they are as good as they used to be before those 10 years.
“We got three teams and two of them are in the top 10 and the other is in the top 10 a lot,” Saban adds. “Look historically over a 25-year history, and the three best teams in the East are Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. You look historically at 25 years, Alabama, LSU and Auburn are the three best teams in the West. So we’re playing them all.”
While there is very few details of how the 10 year success metric works, if you just take the win/loss records over the past 10 years, Alabama would face LSU and Auburn, who finish in the top half of the SEC based off record, and Tennessee who comes in 12th out of the 16 teams based on record over the last 10 years. Tennessee is a big outlier in this model, while they finish in the bottom half based on their record over the past decade, they are historically an elite SEC team and are on the rise under current head coach Josh Heupel. In fact, out of Alabama’s proposed permanent opponents, Tennessee ranks third in the SEC in conference championships, with LSU and Auburn ranked fourth and sixth respectively.
“They only did it over 10 years,” Saban says of the metric. “Now you’ve got name, image and likeness, which changes that whole dynamic, because it’s who has the most money to pay players, until they change the rules. I like playing more SEC games. I think it’s good for the game and good for the fans. I think they have a better chance to get the parity right doing the eight games. I’m talking about the balance of who has who.”
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has one of the toughest jobs in the country and whatever he decides to do with the schedule it is almost certainly not going to please everyone.
With that being said, Nick Saban isn't just anyone. The seven-time national champion, and arguably the greatest college coach of all time, carries a lot of weight when he speaks out.
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