There will be drama at a Gulf Coast beach starting Tuesday. Alabama Football head coach, Nick Saban will be in the center of it. For months it has been believed the SEC would adopt a 9-game schedule for the 2024 season.
Divisions go away when Texas and Oklahoma enter the conference in 2024. With 16 teams, an eight-game schedule lost favor because of potential long intervals for each team to complete a cycle of playing the other 15 teams.
A nine-game SEC schedule, with three annual opponents, was thought to be best by most schools. It now appears the mood has shifted to maintaining eight games. A 1-7 format is on the table for discussion and at this point, earlier considered, but discarded formats could be discussed again.
In recent months Nick Saban has been given attention for his displeasure with the Tide’s projected three permanent opponents in a 3-6 format. Going back a couple of years Nick Saban was the only SEC coach to lobby for playing nine SEC games. At one point, he even stated he would be comfortable with a 10-game SEC regular season schedule.
Saban’s more recent displeasure is if the Tide is given Auburn, Tennessee and LSU as annual opponents, either few or no other SEC schools will have as difficult a schedule. Other schools would gain an annual cupcake game against Vanderbilt and several schools would have traditionally less challenging contests against South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Missouri.
Alabama football fans will be livid if, as one projection showed, Tennessee’s annual opponents are the Crimson Tide, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. The response will be the same if the Vols get Kentucky instead of South Carolina.
Nick Saban has a point. If the SEC stays at eight games, he will, fairly or not, take the brunt of the blame.
Don’t Blame Nick Saban
Less obvious to some fans is the move to a 9-game schedule has two sticking points having nothing to do with Nick Saban.
One is the old obstacle of some SEC teams being reluctant to give up a ‘guaranteed’ win against a lesser team. Becoming bowl-eligible is always a challenge for Vanderbilt and in most seasons, a few more SEC teams struggle to get to six wins. With the 12-team CFB Playoff, bowls will lose some luster, but lesser bowls will still signify a degree of success important to coaches. The SEC requires every team to play an out-of-conference Power Five opponent. At nine SEC games, plus the added Power Five, only two games are left for buying wins.
Like buying wins, money is at the center of the scheduling debate. Many schools will not make a decision between eight or nine until it is known how much more will be earned from added payments by ESPN. Perhaps Greg Sankey has that number. If he does not, sticking to eight games for 2024 is probable.
Alabama fans can get ready for national media coverage to focus on Nick Saban if Alabama votes for eight games.