When Nick Saban isn’t narrowly pursuing his self-interests, I find he often has thoughtful things to say about college football. This is one of those times:
“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to coexist with a bowl system and a playoff system,” he said. “I think you’ve got to have one or the other. You know, if we’re going to have an eight-team playoff, 16-team playoff, I don’t think you’re going to have bowl games. I’m not advocating either one. I’m just saying it’s going to be difficult for those two things to coexist.”
I think that’s right. But I’m not as sure as I used to be that the people running college football care nearly as much about the bowls as they once did. And I’m also not sure that those folks have really thought out the implications of playoff expansion as it would affect the bowls.
I’m assuming Saban’s talking about the top-tier bowl games. The lesser sites will continue to exist as long as there is an appetite to broadcast them on ESPN and there are seven-win and mid-major schools to fill them. But you’re already seeing the trend of the conferences taking greater control over the bigger bowls, which may be a precursor to outright replacement with playoff games. (And with expansion will come a greater likelihood of at least some of those games being played at a team’s home site, not at a bowl.)
More shedding of tradition, in other words. Some, no doubt, will welcome that as progress. But what it will really represent is another step in the sport’s journey from being based on strong regional ties to being one based on national appeal. If you ask me, something meaningful will be discarded in the process.
As Jim McElwain put it, “The issue there is that I think it will lose a lot of what is college football,” he said. “I’d hate to see that.”