Nick Saban’s view on the SEC’s scheduling shift after realignment is a prime example of someone missing the bigger picture — this, at least, according to USA Today’s Blake Toppmeyer during a piece titled ‘Nick Saban barks up wrong tree about Alabama football schedule rivals. SEC can ignore him.’
Saban questioned the competitive balance of having to face Tennessee, Auburn, and LSU every season in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger published on March 3. “If you play more games, I think you have to get the three fixed [opponents] right,” he said. “They’re giving us Tennessee, Auburn and LSU. I don’t know how they come to that [decision].”
Toppmeyer disagreed with Saban’s outlook, siding with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. “To focus on an SEC team’s assigned rivals in the future football alignment and disregard the sum of the conference schedule is to ignore the big picture,” Toppmeyer wrote. “That’s commissioner Greg Sankey’s opinion, and I agree with it.”
In an ode to the state of Alabama’s biodiversity, Toppmeyer used a classic phrase to describe what he sees as shortsightedness from the Crimson Tide coach. “Count Nick Saban, though, among those who can’t see the forest for the trees,” Toppmeyer wrote. “The Alabama coach would rather shout at loblolly pines.”
The Case Made Against Nick Saban Perspective
Toppmeyer pointed out how little a difference having three fixed rivals would be from how things already are. “Fixed rivals would make up just one-third of a team’s conference schedule, in this model,” he wrote. “Crying foul over competitive imbalance within 33% of the SEC schedule ignores the whole.”
During a March 8 appearance on the USA Today Network’s SEC Unfiltered podcast, Sankey shared much of the same sentiment.
“We’re not talking about three teams in a schedule,” Sankey said. “We will not play a three-game conference schedule. I can assure everyone of that. The focus on simply three teams overweights three games out of (the sum).”
Toppmeyer feels Sankey’s comments were a direct response to Saban’s comments to Sports Illustrated. “Sankey didn’t mention Saban during our conversation, and I didn’t specifically ask about Saban’s comments,” Toppmeyer prefaced before saying, “But, it’s hard to read Sankey’s quote and not see it as a dismissal of Saban’s ruckus over a sliver of the schedule. Broaden the perspective, and you see Sankey’s point.”
Florida’s Fixed Opponents Seen as Tougher Than Alabama’s
Toppmeyer believes Florida has an even tougher proposed gauntlet than Alabama does, having to face two College Football Playoff mainstays in Georgia and Oklahoma, as well as a South Carolina program that has improved each season under Shane Beamer.
“I’d rather endure Alabama’s trio of Auburn, LSU and Tennessee than be assigned Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina,” Toppmeyer wrote.
To Toppmeyer, LSU is an easier opponent than two-time defending College Football Playoff national champions Georgia. “Face Georgia annually?” he rhetorically asked. “No thanks. Bring on LSU.”
Sankey shared with Toppmeyer on the SEC Unfiltered podcast doesn’t believe any particular program’s proposed gauntlet is worth focusing on given the larger goal of having more SEC teams travel to each other’s campuses. “There’s a significant imbalance with the strength of schedule now,” Sankey said. “We know we can narrow that disparity. We know that. So, I think we have to focus on the big picture and not simply a small component of a schedule.”