Alabama’s Nick Saban unhappy over proposed permanent rivals under nine-game SEC scheduling format


The SEC is set to undergo a massive change ahead of the 2024 season as a result of Texas and Oklahoma joining the league. When the two soon-to-be former Big 12 schools do make their move, the SEC will be implementing a new, division-less scheduling format that in all likelihood will be a nine-game format with three permanent rivals per team and six rotating opponents that appear on a team’s schedule every other year. 

Alabama coach Nick Saban is in favor of the nine-game scheduling option, however, the legendary Crimson Tide coach isn’t happy about what he’s hearing regarding his team’s permanent rivals. 

“I’ve always been an advocate for playing more [conference] games,” Saban told Sports Illustrated. “But if you play more games, I think you have to get the three fixed [opponents] right. They’re giving us Tennessee, Auburn and LSU. I don’t know how they come to that [decision].”

Of course, those are Alabama’s three biggest rivals. The Iron Bowl between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers is arguably the biggest rivalry in sports, and the Tide’s “Third Saturday in October” matchup with Tennessee is huge for Alabama. It’s also the biggest annual matchup on the docket for the Volunteers, which explains why the conference thinks that it must be preserved. Alabama’s rivalry with LSU isn’t necessarily as steeped in tradition as those other two, but it has proven to be one of the SEC West’s most important annual games over the past decade while serving as one of LSU’s biggest games every season.

The new format is not set in stone quite yet. Conference administrators punted on making a firm decision last spring at the SEC’s spring meetings in Destin, Florida, but did settle on two formats: the 3-6 model above and an eight-game format that keeps one traditional rivalry intact and rotates the seven remaining opponents. Both options mean that rotating opponents will play each other every other season. Sankey said last month that he hopes the new format is settled prior to this year’s spring meeting sessions.

This debate will rage even after a decision is made, especially if the 3-6 model is adopted. Some teams will have permanent opponents that are traditionally difficult matchups, and others will get favorable “rivalries” that typically lead to better records. That’s just reality. 

Saban is 100% right; there has to be some semblance of fairness. If the SEC is going to eliminate divisions, then it truly needs to eliminate divisions. Keep the necessary rivalries and then throw the rest in a hat. If that means that a game like LSU-Alabama isn’t played on an annual basis, it won’t be the end of the world because they’ll still play every other season. That, in some cases, could lead to even more anticipation for teams looking for revenge. 

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