Reports started breaking late last week that the College Football Playoff committee was meeting to discuss expanding the Playoff before the current 12-year deal is over in five season.
Well we’ve found at least one person, who likely holds a lot of sway, who is not a fan: Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
Saban told the Paul Finebaum Show this week, “I think the playoff, as I said many years ago when we had just two teams in the playoff and expanded to four, that the more playoffs we have the less significant bowl games are going to be. t’s really not for me, and I don’t even think I’m capable of judging how significant the positive self-gratification that players, programs, and coaches get from being able to go to a bowl game. Now, everything has shifted to the four teams in the playoffs, and the bowls seem to be pretty insignificant. I think if we expand the playoff, you’re going to see a continuation of that trend where the bowl games become less and less significant. Maybe these things can’t coexist. If they’re going to coexist, maybe we should try to leave them pretty much the same.”
In fairness to Saban, he has long believed, dating back to 2014, when the CFB Playoff began, that the bowl system would be watered down.
However, I don’t think it would matter. Players who aren’t in the CFB Playoff are going to continue to opt out, not because of the bowl games being diminished, but because players are wising up to the risk-reward factor of these bowl games.
If you’re a high-round NFL Draft pick, then playing in anything other than the CFB Playoff may not be worth it. And if you’re about to cash in on a multi-million contract, who can blame them?
Saban also shared his concern that more playoff games would mean eliminating the SEC Championship Game. Saban believes the SEC Championship Game has often served as a Playoff game and doesn’t want to strain his players too much.
“I know there is a lot of interest in the playoff, but the other thing I would be concerned with is how many games do we need to play?” Saban said. “The SEC Championship Game, if you look at it, most of the years we played in those games were playoff games. We were playing somebody in the top five. It had an impact on who got in the playoff or championship game. So, you’re going to eliminate that so you can have more playoff games? Are we going to play less games in the regular season so we can have more playoff games? I think there’s only so many games in these guys. They’re student-athletes. They’re not just football players. I think some of that has to be taken into consideration as well.”
I would agree with Saban on not wanting these players to end up with nearly a full NFL slate. The national championship teams are often already playing 15 games.
However, the loss of the SEC Championship game in place of a CFB Playoff quarterfinal game (in a theoretical eight-team playoff, with five Power 5 conference champs, one Group of Five and two at-large teams), is the way the sport should trend moving forward. Get rid of the antiquated divisions in conferences, have one conference championship that moves on to the College Football Playoff and it can replace the Conference Championship Game.
This quarterfinal game should also be played on a campus. That’s when college football is at its best.
But what Saban is failing to realize is that the Playoff has not resulted in more opportunities for more teams. It’s Alabama, Clemson and then, once in a while, Ohio State. It hasn’t helped the sport grow. I agree, I don’t want to water down the best regular season in sports, but this current format, and the arbitrary, selective nature that it is, can’t continue.
And that’s the most important thing Nick Saban needs to understand.