Nick Saban’s Power 5-only schedules would weaken college football overall

A year ago, Alabama needed a breather the week after its annual near-death experience with Ole Miss. Fortunately, the program had invited Kent State to visit Bryant-Denny Stadium and stroked a check to Nick Saban’s alma mater for $1.5 million.

The Golden Flashes lived up to their end of the bargain by losing 48-0.

Kent State enjoyed the experience paycheck so much it’ll continue its SEC tour at Ole Miss in 2018, Auburn in 2019, Arkansas in 2020 and Georgia in 2022. The Athens Banner-Herald reports Georgia will pay Kent State $1.9 million for that 2022 trip between the hedges.

That’s good for Georgia, which doesn’t want to play every non-conference game against Notre Dame. It’s also good for Kent State, which would like to continue playing football and needs that kind of revenue stream to do so.

Given the prevalence of these guarantee games, a lot of people involved in the college football business subscribe to the win-win nature of the transaction.

It seems Saban is not one of those people.

If the Alabama coach had his way, none of those games would happen, and his old school would have to find another way to raise that money. It wouldn’t be easy. Hard to imagine 85 football players selling more than $1 million worth of Krispy Kremes in an afternoon.

Saban’s notion that Power 5 teams should play only other Power 5 teams isn’t a new one. He’s mentioned it for years, and he championed it again Wednesday during his run through the so-called ESPN car wash.

His scheduling suggestions also include playing as many as 10 conference games – not a bad idea there – and having bowl teams selected like NCAA Basketball Tournament teams, based on their overall resumes rather than a minimum of six wins.

“In this scenario, there would be more opportunity to play more teams in your league, as well as to have more games that people would be interested in,” Saban said. “We all play three or four games a year now that nobody’s really interested in. We’d have more good games, more public interest, more fan interest, better TV.”

Spoken like a man who coaches a program that prints money who’s forgotten what it was like to play for one that doesn’t. Is this about what’s good for the sport or what’s good for the networks?

Saban’s argument makes sense if you care only about big-time college football, where money flows like waterfalls in the locker room. But what about Group of 5 FBS programs such as Kent State, UAB, Troy and South Alabama? What about FCS programs such as Samford and Jacksonville State?

As a non-Power 5 AD concerned about future scheduling reminded me recently, those guarantee games are critical to their already tight budgets. What happens to those programs if the big boys decide to keep their money to themselves?

As much as Saban appears to believe the rich should get richer and stick to their own kind, he’s not about to take that step unilaterally. Only once in his 10 years at Alabama has the Crimson Tide played more than one Power 5 non-conference opponent in the regular season.

In 2010, Alabama played Penn State from the Big Ten and Duke from the ACC. The Tide won both games but lost three times overall. That hasn’t happened since as Alabama’s settled into a common non-conference rotation of one Power 5 opponent, two Group of 5 opponents and one FCS foe.

This year the lineup is Florida State, Fresno State, Colorado State and Mercer. Will those games hurt Alabama? Not one bit. Will they help Fresno State, Colorado State and Mercer? A great deal.

Again, it’s a win-win. So why change?

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