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Nick Saban’s still pushing a scheduling plan that would screw mid-majors

Saban wants Power 5 teams to only play each other, and he doesn’t favor an expanded Playoff. Connect the dots.

NCAA Football: SEC Football Media Day Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban has a bully pulpit. People listen when college football’s greatest coach talks, and Saban has used his megaphone to hawk a handful of policy ideas over the years.

One of Saban’s pet projects is convincing the rest of the sport that teams from power conferences should only play each other. He pushed it again at 2018’s SEC Media Days on Wednesday, using a similar rationale to the one he’s laid out since at least 2014.

“I know nobody really asked this, but I’ve always been an advocate of playing all Power 5 schools,” Saban told a media horde. “I think we need to have more really, really good games on TV for the players. We can’t have fans who pay a lot of money for tickets and boxes and loges who support our programs to pay for games that no one is interested in watching.”

Saban’s idea would lead to more fun non-conference games. It might help stem a tide of falling attendance across the sport and bump ratings, too. It could be pulled off if everyone got together. We’ve already published a plan that could be a starting point. But:

Power 5 teams only playing each other would be awful for mid-majors.

The simplest reason why is that small schools (both FCS and Group of 5 FBS) depend on Power 5 games for money. They get hundreds of thousands of dollars per visit to power-conference stadiums. The money those games make for small-school athletic departments is a huge budgetary boost. They usually lose, but they get help funding more sports and scholarships. They don’t have out-of-this-world television contracts to lean on.

Saban’s plan would also crush whatever tiny chances mid-majors currently have of getting into the College Football Playoff. That event’s selection committee has made plain that it doesn’t respect mid-major schedules, and we’re all entitled to feel however we want about that. But UCF going unbeaten in 2017 and missing the Playoff after getting just one Power 5 win against a bad Maryland team made something else extra clear: For a mid-major to make the field, it needs to have a win or two against a really good power team.

That’s why Houston made a lot of people’s projected Playoff cuts early in 2016, after the Cougars beat Oklahoma in Week 1 but before they fell off a cliff later in the season. It’s why FAU, which plays OU in Week 1 in 2018, might be the mid-major with the best chance.

Saban knows a Power 5-only scheduling policy would hurt mid-majors. It’s common sense. He also knows that mid-majors aren’t his problem.

He’s made clear that he thinks little of UCF’s national championship claim, which is the closest the Knights can get to a real title in a sport that’s locked out mid-majors.

At the same presser where he again put forth his exclusively Power 5 scheduling idea, he alluded to the obvious point that it would hurt teams like UCF. He said he “has a tremendous amount of compassion for UCF and what they accomplished this year.”

“But I think they did a good job of determining who got in the playoffs, and we can have another discussion about the future of the playoffs and how many teams should get in the playoffs, but you’re going to minimize the effect of bowl games, which I stood up here ten years ago and said, as soon as we do this, it’s going to diminish bowl games, the importance of bowl games. Everybody would just be interested in the playoffs.”

An expanded playoff could leave an opportunity for a mid-major to get in even without the option to schedule Power 5 opponents. But Saban doesn’t want the Playoff to get bigger, either, and has spoken at length several times about how a larger Playoff makes bowl games less important, with players sometimes sitting out less meaningful bowls.

“All of these things are not good for college football,” he said Wednesday.

If Saban doesn’t want a bigger Playoff and also doesn’t want Power 5s to play mid-majors, then he doesn’t want mid-majors to have any shot at the Playoff.

He doesn’t have to say that, though, because what does he care?

“So there’s a lot of philosophical questions that everybody needs to sort of take into consideration as what the best way to do this whole thing is, and I don’t think I have the answer to that,” Saban said. “That’s not what I get paid to do.”