Stuart McNair

In what is pretty much a typical SEC game this week, Alabama hosts Chattanooga

Alabama Coach Nick Saban would like SEC to toughen up the schedules

It’s Weak Week in the Southeastern Conference. There are a few SEC teams with meaningful games this week, but more than half – including Alabama – are enjoying cupcakes in preparation for the usually bigger rival games that fall on the final weekend of regular season play.

Alabama is no exception. The Crimson Tide of Coach Nick Saban has a three-fold mission to close out the 2016 college football season: Beat Auburn in the final week of regular season play, win the SEC Championship (the Tide has already assured itself of a berth in that title game on Dec. 3), and earn a berth in the College Football Playoff.

Obviously, if Bama makes it into the CFP – and for now Alabama is the top seed – there will be new objectives, to wit, winning the semifinal game and then the championship game.

But this is the week when Alabama, with a 10-0 record and a 7-0 record in the SEC, doesn’t really want to look the nation in the eye. That’s because the most accomplished team in the nation will be hosting Chattanooga.

Now, it will be No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 12 UTC, but the catch is Alabama plays in the Big Boy division of the NCAA and Chattanooga is in what everyone except the NCAA calls Division II.

The FBS – where Alabama plays – is bigger than the FCS – home of Chattanooga. In fact, the FBS is so big that it is divided into two divisions, the Power 5 (members of the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Pac 12, and Big 12) and the other five, where teams like Boise State, Houston, Western Michigan, etc. grab the next largest piece of the college football payoff pie.

There is nothing good for Alabama about playing Chattanooga. What’s good for Chattanooga is it gets beaten up, no one blames them, and they take home a nice paycheck. Earlier in the season Alabama paid off and beat up Western Kentucky and Kent State.

The primary challenge of those games is to whom Bama season ticket holders will give the tickets.

To Alabama’s credit, those aren’t the only non-conference games on the Crimson Tide schedule. This week on a national radio show, a Michigan State fan was complaining about Alabama playing Chattanooga on the next-to-last weekend of the regular season. On the other hand, when Bama opened the season, it was against Southern Cal in Arlington, Texas. That day Michigan State was playing Furman.

This week in the SEC, though, is awful. All 14 teams are in action in 10 games and there are four actual SEC vs. SEC games.

But other opponents include Texas-San Antonio, Louisiana-Lafayette, Western Carolina, Austin Peay, Alabama A&M, and, of course, Chattanooga.

That Chattanooga game, incidentally, kicks off at 6 p.m. CST Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium with ESPN2 televising the game.

Television is so enamored with Weak Week that in addition to Bama’s game on ESPN2, there will be two games on ESPNU, three on SEC Network-Alternate Channel, three on SEC Network, and one on CBS. One on a real channel.

Someone must like these games, though, right? The athletics directors do, because they buy a game for a million and soak their fans for three or so million, a nice payday.

There is a voice for an alternative, though.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban.

After first assuring everyone that Alabama has great respect for Chattanooga’s program, players, and coaches, and that the payday is important to the cannon fodder; and even claiming such a game helps his team improve while “having the proper respect for the team we play,” Saban addressed the situation.

“I’ve been an advocate of playing all Power Five conference schools [and] playing more conference games,” he said. “I know it’s a more difficult schedule but I think it would be better for the fans.”

College football in a four-team playoff era makes it a problem, Saban said. “If you lose a game, you’re on thin ice,” he said. “If you lose two, it’s almost impossible.”

He’d like more games “like the NFL. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl a few years ago and lost six games.

“You play quality opponents every week and probably end up losing more games, but I think at the end of the day it would be more competitive for everyone involved relative to the fans and players and the selection committee and all the things that go into it.”

One problem with playing more conference games is when it was brought up at the SEC Spring Meeting a few years ago, the vote from the SEC’s football coaches against going from eight conference games to nine was 13 against, Saban for.

So who can get this done.

Saban said, “We have administrators, conference commissioners, athletics directors, college presidents that are all in a position to make those kind of decisions. We’ll do whatever they decide is the best thing for college football.”


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