Monday, August 8, 2022

Alabama coach Nick Saban weighs in on conference realignment, concerns over competitive balance

When Alabama coach Nick Saban speaks, people listen, and the best coach in college football weighed in on the top story of the offseason on Tuesday in an interview with the “Always College Football” podcast. Saban specifically addressed the new era of college football realignment, which started last summer with Texas and Oklahoma announcing a future move to the SEC and continued last month when USC and UCLA announced their intentions to move to the Big Ten.

Saban, like many, believes that a new era is indeed upon us.

“I think we’re going to deal with it in a greater capacity than ever before because I think mega-conferences are probably here to stay,” he said. “Market share … market … there’s a lot of that involved in why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

The new-look SEC and new-look Big Ten will have 16 teams once the dust has settled, the ACC sits at 14 teams and the Big 12 is set to get back to what its name suggests with 12 full-time members. Saban, however, has one big concern with the new era of super-conferences.

“My biggest concern is competitive balance,” he said. “The NFL — which I was involved in for eight years — every rule that they have is to create competitive balance. If they could have every team go 8-8, so that at the end of every season, every team was playing their last game to get into the playoffs, they would be ecstatic. How much fan interest does that create? How much TV ratings and all of the things that go into all of these things, does that create?”

From a macro level, Saban’s biggest concern appears to be the free-for-all around the country for every team to set itself up for the best possible scenario to compete at the highest level. That same concern can be applied to multiple other college football administrative topics, including the transfer portal as well as the new name, image and likeness rules. 

“We don’t have any guardrails on what we’re doing right now,” Saban said. “We have no restrictions on who can do what. Some people are going to be capable of doing certain things. Other people are not going to be capable. The bottom line is we’ll lose competitive balance which, everything we’ve done in college football is to maintain competitive balance … same scholarship, everybody has to play by the same rules whether it was recruiting or whatever. Right now, that’s not how it is.”

Saban has been very outspoken this offseason about the issues facing college football. He famously got into a war of words with Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher earlier this year when he said the Aggies program “bought” its 2022 recruiting class — the best class of all time, according to 247Sports. He also has made strong statements about the lack of oversight on “collectives” that have popped up to fund NIL efforts of multiple schools.

He reiterated those concerns on the podcast, specifically citing the work of starting quarterback and 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.

“Bryce Young has created a tremendous amount of value for himself by the way he’s played, the way he handles himself, the leadership he has … and it’s all performance-based. It wasn’t given to him by somebody else. I think that’s great. But when we create other avenues for people, and use it to get them to come to their school, now you don’t have competitive balance. Some kind of way, we have to reel all of that in and make it the same for everybody.”

Realignment and NIL are certainly going to be hot topics next week in Atlanta when the SEC’s players and coaches make the rounds at SEC Media Days.

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