Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Saban references Richt firing as a reason against playoff expansion


DALLAS -- Alabama's Nick Saban and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio both came out against potential expansion of the College Football Playoff Wednesday, reiterating their belief that it would make the season too long and further diminish the value of the regular season and bowl games. Saban also said coaches could be viewed as unsuccessful based solely on not reaching the playoffs and made a not-so-veiled reference to former Georgia coach Mark Richt.

"I think in some circumstances I saw it happen this year," Saban said Wednesday in the final pre-Cotton Bowl news conference. "Coaches who won nine games and average winning 9½ games over 15 years lose their job. Based on what standard? So I think that's probably going to be the standard. And that's the thing that I thought was unique about college football, that there was a lot of positive reinforcement for having a good season, a very good season. And now that standard is going to be measured more as to whether you get in the playoff or not."

Saban was not asked a follow-up question on the subject but the reference clearly was to Richt, whose firing after the regular season prompted Saban to comment at the time: "I don't know what the world's coming to in our profession. Mark Richt's been a really good coach and real positive person in our profession for a long, long time. I think when you win nine games, that's a pretty good season, and especially with the body of work that he's been able to put together there for however (many) years he's been there."

Saban and Dantonio held a joint news conference in advance of Thursday's national semifinal. Regarding the playoff system, Dantonio expressed the belief of most coaches that the season already is too long.

That's true. But what Saban, Dantonio and other coaches should do is direct their anger toward college presidents and athletic directors who've created the situation by prioritizing multi-million dollars with television networks over academics -- which, by the way, also has led to skyrocketing coaches salaries and inflated recruiting budgets, neither of which coaches are complaining about.

"When you start to throw eight teams in there, I think it's going to get a little bit even more muddled as you move forward," Dantonio said. "We have our (Big Ten) championship game within our conference, which sort of served as a way to get into this (playoff). And right now we're coming in to playing our 14th game. So it's a lot of football games."

Saban echoed those sentiments: "One of the unique things about college football was always that a lot of positive reinforcement was given to a lot of teams who had the opportunity to go to bowl games. And there were some pretty significant trips involved for families and fans and teams and players. And my concern was if we had a playoff, all the attention would go to the playoff and we would minimize the importance of those games for all those other players. And I think that's probably happened to some degree. Having a four-team playoff creates a lot of excitement for fans. I think if we play as many games as we play now and go to eight teams, we're going to be playing too many games."

There is one solution to this: Eliminate conference championship games or shorten the regular season, both of which make money for conferences and schools. But that's not going to happen, of course.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.