DESTIN, Fla. -- Nick Saban stood back from the lectern and smiled -- yes, smiled -- as he looked at media members.
“It always makes me nervous when there’s no issues,” Alabama’s football head coach said. “Because then somebody creates one, which has happened to me a couple of times here in the past.”
Football coaches, when they met for four hours Tuesday afternoon, seemed to actively avoid contentious issues. For instance, LSU’s Les Miles said they “very briefly” discussed the controversial issue of pace of play.
“We acknowledged that there were differences in the room and moved onto things we can accomplish (Tuesday),” Miles said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Ledger-Enquirer
But one subject did keep coming up -- football scheduling, as much as SEC commissioner Mike Slive had tried to avoid it.
Slive thought he put the issue to rest when the conference announced it was sticking with an eight-game schedule and requiring at least one non-conference matchup with another major conference foe.
But now the debate is about non-conference scheduling. Florida’s Will Muschamp made it the hot topic when he announced that his program was probably not going to play any FCS programs again, citing a desire for Gators fans to see better opponents. That led to the other coaches being asked if they’d follow suit.
None would commit to it.
Whether it was a convenient excuse or not, coaches pointed to finances and the fact the smaller programs get a huge budget boost when the bigger programs pay them to visit.
“If we don’t have those games with the FCS schools, a lot of them have a very difficult time making their budgets,” Georgia’s Mark Richt said. “I think college football is too important at all levels to hurt them by setting criteria that would not allow you to play them.”
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier pointed to in-state FCS programs that he would like to continue playing.
“They are very appreciative when they get to come to our ballpark because they go home with a bunch of money,” Spurrier said. “And they always say, ‘Coach, we really appreciate you playing us because it really helps our budget throughout the year.’ ”
Saban came the closest to supporting Muschamp, in fact going further by saying his preference would be if the teams in the five major conferences -- SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 -- only played each other.
But Saban also acknowledged that the logistics of that would be nearly impossible and so would excluding FCS teams.
“We can’t just call people up and say we want to have a game,” Saban said. “It’s not like setting up a golf game. I call three of my buddies and say, ‘You want to play Sunday morning. Can you play?’ Then everybody says, ‘Yeah, I can play.’ You ever try to schedule a game? Do you know what goes into that? And it’s very difficult to do home and home with quality teams. And there’s only certain teams, to be honest with you, you almost have to buy games to get people to play you.”
Slive made clear he wasn’t about to mandate anything about non-conference scheduling, other than the previously announced requirement. He called scheduling “an institutional decision” and also pointed to the smaller programs receiving financial help by playing the big programs.
“One can argue it’s healthy for college football that you can give some of these institutions a chance to develop some revenue of consequence to help support their programs,” Slive said. “So you can argue that.”
Slive also said he wanted every one of his school’s schedules to be as strong as possible. And Georgia continued to make moves to that end.
Georgia and Notre Dame are moving closer to a series that would take place “later this decade,” Bulldogs athletics director Greg McGarity said. It had been Notre Dame that seemed more eager for the series to happen, but now McGarity is on board, as well.
“I think it’s an opponent we’ve played, what, one time? 1980? For our fans to be able to go up to South Bend and for our fans to see Notre Dame play between the hedges, I think from a national perspective it’d be off the charts, as far as interest, as far as intrigue,” McGarity said. “That would be something out of the ordinary that our fans would be very, very excited about.”
McGarity cautioned that no deal was finalized, and a snag could always happen. He also said he had two other high-profile programs on the radar in case Notre Dame fell through. Or perhaps even if it doesn’t. So McGarity is moving forward in “guarded” fashion about the series with Notre Dame coming to fruition.
“But intent, absolutely,” McGarity said.