Alabama football coach Nick Saban favors nine SEC matchups

photo Alabama coach Nick Saban could have four players picked in the first round of the NFL draft this week.

Alabama football coach Nick Saban has set himself apart with three national championships in the past four seasons.

Saban also is a bit unique on the subject of Southeastern Conference scheduling, as he is in favor of moving to a nine-game league format. The SEC has maintained an eight-game schedule since 1992, when Arkansas and South Carolina joined to form a 12-member league, but that collection grew to 14 last year when Missouri and Texas A&M were added.

"I am absolutely in the minority," Saban told reporters Tuesday as the SEC spring meetings opened in Destin, Fla. "Everybody has their reasons, but the biggest thing we all need to do in some of these decisions we're making about who we're playing and what we do is, 'What about the fans?' One of these days they're going to quit coming to the games because they're going to stay home and watch it on TV.

"Everybody's going to say, 'Why aren't you coming to the games? Well, if you play somebody good, we would come to the game.' That should be the first consideration. Nobody is considering them."

Saban has been open the last several months to moving to nine games so fans and players can experience more of the league, and his argument has merit. Alabama and Georgia played a fantastic SEC title game last December, but those two programs haven't met in the regular season since 2008 and aren't scheduled to play this season.

Texas A&M made quite a splash in its league debut, but Georgia and Tennessee may never get a chance to face the Aggies with Johnny Manziel at quarterback.

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Georgia's Mark Richt and Florida's Will Muschamp have expressed concerns about a nine-game league schedule since their programs end each season with in-state rivalries against Atlantic Coast Conference members Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State. Vanderbilt's James Franklin and Ole Miss's Hugh Freeze are among those citing a more difficult path to bowl eligibility if the SEC went to nine games.

Bowl eligibility has been no problem for the Crimson Tide under Saban's watch, but he admits going to nine would make it tougher to win a national championship. Alabama is 49-5 the past four seasons, with all five setbacks coming within the league (LSU twice, Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A&M).

"I shouldn't be for it," he said. "We have a better chance to be successful if we don't do it, but I think it's best for the game and for the league. I'm trying to look at it from 1,000 feet."

The Sporting News reported Tuesday that the SEC could move to nine games in 2015, but league commissioner Mike Slive said, "I certainly don't believe we'll come to any closure here." Slive met Tuesday with coaches and athletic directors about scheduling and will do so again today.

The SEC will continue this year with eight league games consisting of the six divisional opponents, one permanent foe from the opposite division and one rotating foe from the opposite division.

LSU coach Les Miles has been outspoken about ending the permanent cross-divisional matchups in this eight-game setup, but Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva told reporters that only LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M share that thought. South Carolina and Texas A&M have never met before but are scheduled to be cross-divisional opponents in 2014.

Keeping the cross-divisional games would preserve the longstanding rivalries of Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia, which is deadlocked after 116 meetings at 54-54-8.

"The one thing I will say that I would vote on is to continue to have our rival game with Auburn," Richt said. "I don't know how it is going to go, but I vote for us to continue to play Auburn."

Permanent hoop site?

The SEC men's basketball tournament is in the process of bouncing back and forth between Nashville and Atlanta, and it was held in New Orleans in 2012. On Tuesday, Slive said league athletic directors voted unanimously to authorize the conference to explore a permanent site.

"We've been very successful with our permanent football site in Atlanta," Slive said, "and we've been successful with our permanent site [Hoover, Ala.] in baseball."

Odds and ends

Saban said Muschamp and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley contacted him to apologize after Gators offensive line coach Tim Davis referred to Saban earlier this month as "the devil himself." ... Freeze was asked if he cared about prospect rankings on recruiting websites and responded, "Unfortunately I do." ... First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones on his new league: "Every day is football season in the SEC."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.