Nick Saban warns of competitive imbalance, lost traditions amid conference realignment
When Nick Saban talks, we listen.
And during a recent appearance on the Always College Football podcast with ESPN’s Greg McElroy, the Alabama head coach shared that with this latest round of conference realignment, he’s worried that college football is losing itself.
“My biggest concern is competitive balance,” Saban told his former quarterback. “The NFL—which I was involved in for eight years—every rule they have is to create competitive balance and if they could have every team go 8-8 so at the end of a season every team was playing their last game to get in the playoffs they would be ecstatic. Because how much fan interest does that create?
“We don’t have any guardrails on what we’re doing right now. We have no restrictions on who can do what. Some people are gonna be capable of doing certain things other people aren’t going to be capable. But the bottom line is we’ll lose competitive balance. Which everything we’ve always done in college football is to maintain competitive balance. Same scholarship, everyone had to play by the same rules whether it was recruiting or whatever. Right now that’s not how it is.”
Of course, Saban’s bosses are at the root of all this upheaval throughout the sport. The SEC’s additions of Texas and Oklahoma for the 2025 season paved the way for the Big Ten to break the sport’s collective minds weeks ago when it was announced that USC and UCLA would exit the Pac-12 in 2024 and join the midwest-based conference.
It’s also worth pointing out that Saban’s Crimson Tide have more national championships in the College Football Playoff era than the Pac-12 has CFP appearances. Competitive balance is already out of whack.
ESPN and FOX, the two networks tied to both the SEC and Big Ten, are shelling out major money to the two leagues and with payouts skyrocketing, the sports’ best don’t want to be left behind. As financial security becomes the chief operating objective, Saban is worried that college football is losing its charm.
With the exception of 2020, USC and Stanford have played each other every year since 1946. When the Trojans move to the Big Ten, will that game remain on the schedule every year? If the Pac-12 falls apart and Stanford ends up without an attractive chair when the music stops, how will the Cardinal feel about that?
“There’s a lot of tradition in conferences that will no longer exist,” Saban said. “I think we’ve gone through that to some degree in the past, the Oklahoma/Nebraska game used to be a big game and they’ve not been in the same conference for quite some time now. But I think we’re going to deal with it in a greater capacity than ever before because I think mega-conferences are probably here to stay.”
You can see the rest of Saban’s appearance below: