USA TODAY US Edition

Bust­ing Sa­ban’s mo­nop­oly, for the good of the game

Alabama vic­tory is al­most as pre­dictable as the tide. That needs to change.

- Brent Schroten­boer Sports · College Sports · American Football · College Football · Nick Saban · Alabama · Southeastern Conference · University of Notre Dame · Notre Dame, Indiana · Ohio · Ohio State University · Miami · Florida · Clemson, SC · Kansas · NFL · California · Mississippi · Tuscaloosa · Southern California · Oklahoma · Michigan · Tennessee · Miami Gardens, FL · Miami Gardens · Dylan Moses · Bryant

Sit­ting be­hind a mi­cro­phone af­ter win­ning an­other na­tional cham­pi­onship, coach Nick Sa­ban faced the news me­dia Mon­day night and looked a lit­tle bored.

This has got­ten a lit­tle old – six ti­tles in 12 years for his Alabama foot­ball team. What else is there for him to say?

It’s true: This time it was more dif­fi­cult than nor­mal. The Crim­son Tide (13-0) had to play through a pan­demic and win 11 games against op­po­nents from the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence, plus two play­off games against Notre Dame and Ohio State.

It might have been Sa­ban’s best coach­ing per­for­mance to date, at age 69.

But this can’t last. Or at least it shouldn’t last, if col­lege foot­ball wants to avoid be­com­ing as bor­ing as the Crim­son Tide’s 52-24 win against the

Buck­eyes for the na­tional ti­tle.

“This team ac­com­plished more al­most than any team,” Sa­ban said in Miami Gar­dens, Florida. “No dis­re­spect to any other teams that we had or any cham­pi­onship teams.”

Sa­ban’s quar­ter­back went even fur­ther.

“I think we’re the best team to ever play,” Mac Jones said. “There’s no team that will ever play an SEC sched­ule like that again.”

They both might be right: This was a heck of a team that de­served all it got, in­clud­ing its third Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner since 2009. But that’s the is­sue. Sa­ban is prob­a­bly go­ing to be bet­ter as a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian than he was at age 50, when he hadn’t yet won any na­tional ti­tles.

This thing ain’t slow­ing down. In the cor­po­rate busi­ness world, it could be called a mo­nop­oly. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment even has laws and re­sources to break up com­pa­nies that be­come too big and pow­er­ful. It’s called “trust bust­ing” – a way to pro­mote com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­ket­place and pro­tect con­sumers by dis­man­tling mon­ster mo­nop­o­lies.

This doesn’t hap­pen in col­lege foot­ball. Yet it’s past time to think about whether it should.

“Is this what we want foot­ball to be?” Sa­ban asked in 2012.

Back then, he was talk­ing about no­hud­dle of­fenses that were ir­ri­tat­ing his de­fenses.

To­day, the ques­tion could be turned back on him: Is this what we want col­lege foot­ball to be – Sa­ban win­ning it all at least ev­ery other year, mixed in with an oc­ca­sional ti­tle for Clem­son or Ohio State, and with half the coun­try west of Kansas hav­ing lit­tle rea­son to tune in?

For the sake of the greater good, some­thing must be done. Here are a few ways to break it up:

Re­dis­tribute re­cruit­ing tal­ent: Un­like in the NFL, col­lege foot­ball does not have a player draft in which the worst teams get to pick the best play­ers first while the best teams pick last. The NFL does this to pro­mote par­ity. By con­trast, Alabama and Clem­son each landed four of the top 22 play­ers in the 2020 re­cruit­ing class, ac­cord­ing to 247Sports’ rank­ings. One of them is a quar­ter­back from Cal­i­for­nia, Bryce Young, who is ex

pected to re­place Jones next sea­son and al­ready is con­sid­ered a Heis­man Tro­phy can­di­date.

Sa­ban also has been known to start stock­pil­ing play­ers be­fore they start play­ing in high school.

“He’s meant ev­ery­thing to me,” Alabama line­backer Dy­lan Moses said af­ter Mon­day’s game. “Like he changed my life. I don’t know if you guys re­mem­ber, but he of­fered me a schol­ar­ship out of the eighth grade. I’ve been know­ing him since I was 14 years old, per­son­ally.”

In the ab­sence of a player draft, col­lege foot­ball could re­duce team schol­ar­ship lim­its from 85 to 75. This would pre­vent elite teams from hoarding the best play­ers, spread­ing the tal­ent around more evenly.

The prob­lem is it would re­duce to­tal schol­ar­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties for play­ers, and some pow­er­ful schools (Alabama) wouldn’t like it.

h Ex­pand the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off: In­creas­ing the field from four to eight teams would put four ad­di­tional teams on a higher plat­form at the end of the year, boost­ing their ex­po­sure and ap­peal to re­cruits. Alabama likely will dom­i­nate an added quar­ter­fi­nal game even more than it did this sea­son’s semi­fi­nal and fi­nal games. But it would in­crease the jeop­ardy for the Crim­son Tide, forc­ing it to make an ex­tra sud­den­death step to the ti­tle. Adding teams to the mix also might give re­cruits like Young the idea that na­tional cham­pi­onships are at least pos­si­ble at schools west of the Mis­sis­sippi River.

h Negotiate a re­tire­ment: With his win Mon­day, Sa­ban earned a $200,000 bonus and is sched­uled to make more than $10 mil­lion this con­tract year, ac­cord­ing to his con­tract. He al­ready has a statue out­side Bryant-Denny Sta­dium in Tuscaloosa. He’s ar­guably the best coach ever. What more does this guy want?

If he re­tired, there’s a good chance Alabama’s dy­nasty would level off af­ter a few years. None of his for­mer as­sis­tants have been able to come close to his level as a head coach. The cy­cle might fi­nally end.

In its last sea­son be­fore Sa­ban, Alabama fin­ished 6-7. It was 2006, the end of a 10-year pe­riod in which a dif­fer­ent team won at least a share of the na­tional ti­tle ev­ery year, in­clud­ing Florida, Texas, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Ok­la­homa, Michi­gan, Ohio State and Ten­nessee.

Wasn’t that a lit­tle more in­ter­est­ing to fans out­side of Alabama?

Or is this what we want foot­ball to be?

 ?? MARK J. REBILAS/USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Head coach Nick Sa­ban and of­fen­sive line­man Alex Leather­wood (70) lift the spoils of an­other col­lege foot­ball na­tional cham­pi­onship for Alabama. The ti­tle was Sa­ban’s sixth at the school.
MARK J. REBILAS/USA TO­DAY SPORTS Head coach Nick Sa­ban and of­fen­sive line­man Alex Leather­wood (70) lift the spoils of an­other col­lege foot­ball na­tional cham­pi­onship for Alabama. The ti­tle was Sa­ban’s sixth at the school.
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 ?? MARVIN GEN­TRY/USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Fans pose by the statue of Alabama foot­ball coach Nick Sa­ban, erected in 2011, out­side Bryant-Denny Sta­dium in 2017.
MARVIN GEN­TRY/USA TO­DAY SPORTS Fans pose by the statue of Alabama foot­ball coach Nick Sa­ban, erected in 2011, out­side Bryant-Denny Sta­dium in 2017.

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