When Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks, college football listens.
While speaking at a Crimson Caravan stop in Fort Payne, Ala. on Thursday, Saban touched on the idea that Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs should only schedule out-of-conference matchups with other FBS programs, according to AL.com.
I’m for five conferences – everybody playing everybody in those five conferences. That’s what I’m for, so it might be 70 teams, and everybody’s got to play ’em.
Interesting—especially considering Saban's Alabama teams have played Western Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Chattanooga over the last four seasons.
But don't focus on that part of the argument. Saban is all for the ninth conference game, which could be at the expense of those traditional cupcake matchups.
The bigger story here is what Saban's comments mean towards the landscape of college football.
It sounds an awful lot like what he's advocating is a bigger divide of FBS. That split is looking more and more like a realistic possibility as the "haves" separate from the "have nots."
Chalk this up to another brick in that growing wall.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive suggested last month that another division could be a realistic possibility when discussing the failed proposal that would give athletes a $2,000 stipend to cover the gap between what's paid for in an athletic scholarship and the full cost of attending college (via AL.com):
Obviously, if things like that don't get accomplished, then it may be appropriate to talk about some alternative or division or something like that. But that's not our desire. That's not our goal and that's not something we're trying to get to.
It's where we are headed, and the split is already visible.
The Big East (soon-to-be American Athletic Conference) will lose its automatic bid to the big six bowls under the new format, and join the "group of five" conferences that share one automatic bid along with Conference USA, the Mountain West, Sun Belt and MAC.
That leaves five conferences—the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12—as the power players in college football. When realignment is complete, those conferences will have 64 football-playing members. Bring the Pac-12 and Big 12 up to 14 teams, and what do you know—it's 70 teams, the exact number Saban said.
Realignment is paused for the moment due to the ACC's grant of rights deal that keeps television rights with the conference if a school should leave, and Saban's number may have come out of thin air. Whether it was intentional or a coincidence, it is indicative of the growing divide in college football.
I wrote last week about the risks and rewards of staying under the umbrella, and while removing the NCAA entirely may sound like a good idea at the moment, it would be more of a knee-jerk reaction.
Will we see a split in FBS within 10 years?
If the powers-that-be can figure out a way to get what they wish—which includes Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's push for full cost of attendance and the growing desire to eliminate FCS opponents—staying under that tax-exempt umbrella may be the best option.
Measures to pass full cost of attendance were overridden in 2011 after receiving 97 override votes, 22 more than the 75 needed. The proposal essentially went back to the drawing board this offseason, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
With 340 institutions now in Division I, it's clear that the system if flawed. Bottom lines and budgets vary drastically from the top to the bottom of the division, and it's clear that we are reaching a breaking point.
On the surface, Saban's comments suggest that he's advocating a rule eliminating FCS competition. But they're much more indicative of a growing divide between the programs that embrace college football's big-business model, and those who don't or can't.