CRAWFORD | Why Saban's 'five-conference' club wouldn't fly - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Why Saban's 'five-conference' club wouldn't fly

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Alabama coach Nick Saban says he's for teams in top conferences scheduling only teams from other BCS conferences. Alabama coach Nick Saban says he's for teams in top conferences scheduling only teams from other BCS conferences.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Alabama football coach Nick Saban simply said out loud what people have been talking about for some time last week during a stop on his offseason "Crimson Caravan."

Responding to a question about scheduling, Saban said, as quoted by, "I'm for five conferences -- everybody playing everybody in those five conferences. . . . That's what I'm for, so it might be 70 teams, and everybody's got to play 'em."

John Calipari has floated a similar idea for college basketball, and the "mega conferences" have long been in the arena of discussion, as has a potential breakaway from the NCAA.

Leaving that larger issue of sanctioning aside, here's why Saban's vision won't come to fruition. In the words of Caddyshack judge Elihu Smails: "The world needs ditch diggers too."

I've used that line before on this subject, but it remains true. Here's the logic behind it. For the purposes of this discussion, three years is a single life-cycle in college football. It's time enough for a new coach to be hired and fired. It's time enough for a program's direction to be established as trending upward or downward.

So let's take a look at the last three years in the Southeastern Conference.

For starters, five teams have won almost 60 percent of the conference games in that time -- Alabama, South Carolina, LSU, Georgia and Florida accounting for 57 percent of the conference wins (last season, they took 59 percent).

Those five schools are important when we start to take a look at Saban's proposal. Remember, he's essentially saying that if you are in a BCS league, or one of those "five conferences," you play only those teams in the other power leagues.

That's his vision. Here's the reality.

In the past three seasons, SEC teams have played 152 non-conference games (in the regular season). Only 40 of those came against teams from other BCS leagues. The SEC's record in those games is a respectable 26-14.

But look inside that record. Of the 40 games against other BCS conference teams, 21 of those games were played by those five programs I mentioned above. And of the 26 victories the SEC has in those games against other BCS-conference teams, 17 came from those five programs I mentioned above.

So here's the point. Going to an all-BCS schedule is fine for programs like those five SEC power programs. But look at the rest of the SEC. Over the past three seasons, out of 92 non-conference regular-season chances, those teams scheduled only 19 games against BCS conference opponents (and usually not good ones, mind you). And they won only nine of those games.

Outside of the SEC's top five, those other programs went 3-3 against BCS-conference competition in 2010 and 3-2 in 2011. With a new emphasis on "scheduling tougher," along with adding a pair of new members, the rest of the SEC pack upped its total to 10 games against BCS-conference opponents in the 2012 season. But it did not up its victory total -- winning the same three games.

So when you're talking about stepping up and scheduling only big boys, it's fine for the big boys. I'm not surprised Saban is fine with it. Those top programs can handle it.

But outside of those teams, in the SEC there were 30 non-conference victories all of last season. All but three were opponents NOT from a BCS conference. You're talking about ripping 90 percent of the non-conference victories of those teams off the schedule and replacing them with a pool of opponents against which they won 30 percent last season and have won 43 percent over the past three years.

Here's the basic fact about splitting off the 70 or so elite programs and having them only play each other: Half of them are losing every week. Without the lower level programs, many of these teams don't go to bowl games, they don't keep alumni happy, they run through coaches, their attendance suffers. Granted, that's a cycle many are going through anyway, but without the non-BCS fodder many of them live off of, more would be dragged into the undertow of misery.

Ole Miss went 6-6 in the regular season and made a bowl game in 2012. Half its wins were against non-BCS competition. And this is just the SEC. The scene is repeated -- and in fact, is likely only more pronounced -- in every other major league.

And not only do half the teams have to lose if you collect those 70 big-time programs in one overall organization and have them play only each other, but half of them also have to play on the road every week. And if there's one thing those programs hate more than losing, it's venturing away from home for a non-conference game.

All of that is fine if you want to go the route of pro sports leagues and legislate for parity -- give teams at the bottom of the standings the first crack at recruits. But of course, that's impossible. Instead, you wind up with a kind of feudal setup with royalty and peasantry, which in many ways we already have. It's just that now, the peasants get a few crumbs in the non-conference.

Saban's vision is nice. It draws upon a sense of justice -- get rid of these "buy" games and these stupid, meaningless yawners so many college teams play in the non-conference. But the majority of his league brethren won't let it happen. Here in the Bluegrass State, the conventional wisdom is that the University of Kentucky might look to get out of its series with Louisville if the SEC goes to a nine-game schedule. Can you imagine the angst if the SEC went to nine games AND had to schedule non-conference games against BCS-conference opponents? The last time Kentucky scheduled a power non-conference opponent that wasn't Indiana or Louisville was North Carolina. It was 1990.

The old song says breaking up is hard to do. Breaking away would be outright torture for a lot of major-conference programs. Whenever you hear about coaches talking about gathering up the elite conferences into some kind of super-confederation, remember that. Because sometimes they don't.

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