Facing LSU, Tennessee, and Auburn on an annual basis is a difficult ask of the Alabama football program, but the reason behind it certainly isn’t a shocking one. As Tuscaloosa News columnist Chase Goodbread puts it, though, it’s all about the Benjamins.
That was his answer to Nick Saban’s question of why those three SEC pillars were picked. “It’s the dollars, coach,” Goodbread wrote. “Always the dollars.” He then explained his reasoning in further detail.
“It’s in the best financial interest of the TV networks and, by extension, of the SEC, that as many of the league’s best annual rivalries survive the schedule reform made necessary by the league’s addition of Texas and Oklahoma,” he wrote. “Those rivalry games generate the best TV ratings, which in turn do the most to generate cash by the wheelbarrow for the SEC.”
Revenue, Not Competitive Balance, is ESPN’s Priority
As the exclusive broadcast partner of the College Football Playoff and supplier of the SEC Network to the airwaves, the only interest of ESPN, as Goodbread points out, is revenue — not the competitive balance of the conference or for college football at large.
“It’s a simple equation for ESPN or any television partner, because the only concern for a network is revenue, not parity or competitive balance,” he wrote. “Things like scheduling fairness is the league’s problem, not ESPN’s. In Alabama’s case, the Iron Bowl obviously isn’t going anywhere, and the Alabama-Tennessee and Alabama-LSU games draw too many TV eyeballs to be played on a rotating basis.”
It may not unfold like Saban fears it might, but if it does, it’s just business Goodman writes. “For the SEC, let’s allow the format drama to play out and see what happens when the curtain is finally lifted,” he wrote. “Perhaps the SEC scheduling wheel will ultimately spin a different way for Alabama, but the SEC is a business.”
What Nick Saban Said About LSU, Tennessee, and Auburn as Rivals
Saban’s comments to Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger were aimed at the lack of balance for the planned Alabama football permanently fixed rivals. “They’re giving us Tennessee, Auburn and LSU,” he said. “I don’t know how they come to that.”
As he explained, LSU, Tennessee, and Auburn are all historically powerful programs, and each has plenty of recruiting firepower in the NIL era. “We got three teams and two of them are in the top 10 and the other is in the top 10 a lot,” he said. “Look historically over a 25-year history, and the three best teams in the East are Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. You look historically at 25 years, Alabama, LSU and Auburn are the three best teams in the West. So we’re playing them all.”
Don’t get Saban wrong. He wants a more competitive schedule with more SEC teams on it. He just wants it to be fair and balanced. “Now you’ve got name, image and likeness, which changes that whole dynamic, because it’s who has the most money to pay players, until they change the rules,” Saban said. “I like playing more SEC games. I think it’s good for the game and good for the fans. I think they have a better chance to get the parity right doing the eight games. I’m talking about the balance of who has who.”