How to break up Nick Saban’s monopoly at Alabama to improve college football
Sitting behind a microphone after winning another national championship, coach Nick Saban faced the news media Monday night and looked a little bored.
This has gotten a little old – six titles in 12 years for his Alabama football team. What else is there for him to say?
It’s true: This time it was more difficult than normal. The Crimson Tide (13-0) had to play through a pandemic and win 11 games against opponents from the Southeastern Conference, plus two playoff games against Notre Dame and Ohio State.
It might have been Saban’s best coaching performance to date, at age 69.
But this can’t last. Or at least it shouldn’t last, if college football wants to avoid becoming as boring as the Crimson Tide’s 52-24 win against the Buckeyes for the national title.
“This team accomplished more almost than any team,” Saban said afterward in Miami Gardens, Florida. “No disrespect to any other teams that we had or any championship teams.”
Saban’s quarterback went even further.
“I think we’re the best team to ever play,” Mac Jones said. “There’s no team that will ever play an SEC schedule like that again.”
They both might be right: This was a heck of a team that deserved all it got, including its third Heisman Trophy winner since 2009. But that’s the issue. Saban is probably going to be better as a septuagenarian than he was at age 50, when he hadn’t yet won any national titles.
This thing ain’t slowing down. In the corporate business world, it could be called a monopoly. The federal government even has laws and resources to break up companies that become too big and powerful. It’s called “trust busting” – a way to promote competition in the marketplace and protect consumers by dismantling monster monopolies.
This doesn’t happen in college football. Yet it’s past time to think about whether it should.
“Is this what we want football to be?” Saban asked in 2012.
Back then, he was talking about no-huddle offenses that were irritating his defenses.
Today, the question could be turned back on him: Is this what we want college football to be – Saban winning it all at least every other year, mixed in with an occasional title for Clemson or Ohio State, and with half the country west of Kansas having little reason to tune in?
For the sake of the greater good, something must be done. Here are a few ways to break it up:
►Redistribute recruiting talent: Unlike in the NFL, college football does not have a player draft in which the worst teams get to pick the best players first while the best teams pick last. The NFL does this to promote parity. By contrast, Alabama and Clemson each landed four of the top 22 players in the 2020 recruiting class, according to 247 Sports rankings. One of them is a quarterback from California, Bryce Young, who is expected to replace Jones next season and already is considered a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Saban also has been known to start stockpiling players before they start playing in high school.
“He’s meant everything to me,” Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses said after Monday’s game. “Like he changed my life. I don’t know if you guys remember, but he offered me a scholarship out of the eighth grade. I’ve been knowing him since I was 14 years old, personally.”
In the absence of a player draft, college football could reduce team scholarship limits from 85 to 75. This would prevent elite teams from hoarding the best players, spreading the talent around more evenly.
The problem is it would reduce total scholarship opportunities for players, and some powerful schools (Alabama) wouldn’t like it.
►Expand the College Football Playoff: Increasing the field from four to eight teams would put four additional teams on a higher platform at the end of the year, boosting their exposure and appeal to recruits. Alabama likely will dominate an added quarterfinal game even more than it did this year’s semifinal and final games. But it would increase the jeopardy for the Crimson Tide, forcing it to make an extra sudden-death step to the title. Adding some extra teams to the mix also might give recruits like Young the idea that national championships are at least possible at schools west of the Mississippi River.
►Negotiate a retirement: With his win Monday, Saban earned a $200,000 bonus and is scheduled to make more than $10 million this contract year, according to his contract. He already has a statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. He’s arguably the best coach ever. What more does this guy want?
If he retired, there’s a good chance Alabama’s dynasty would level off after a few years. None of his former assistants have been able to come close to his level as a head coach. The cycle might finally end.
In its last season before Saban, Alabama finished 6-7. It was 2006, the end of a 10-year period in which a different team won at least a share of the national title every year, including Florida, Texas, Southern California, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee.
Wasn’t that a little more interesting to fans outside of Alabama?
Or is this what we want football to be?
Follow sports reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org