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Thursday, July 17, 2014
SEC coaches discuss shorter season

By Edward Aschoff
ESPN.com

HOOVER, Ala. -- The College Football Playoff will be centered on four teams, but coaches are already thinking about expansion.

The sport's new end-of-the-year playoff format currently has a 12-year lifespan, but in the event that more teams are added and more games are played during the college football season, some SEC coaches think the regular-season structure should be looked at and even shortened.

"I would hope that if it expands beyond this, we gotta look at the regular season," Georgia coach Mark Richt said as SEC media days concluded Thursday. "I think you have to reduce the regular [season]. A lot of people may not agree with that."

Mark Richt
Georgia coach Mark Richt said that if the College Football Playoff is expanded beyond four teams, the regular season would have to be shortened.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze agreed with Richt, saying college football would have to cut into the regular season for the well-being of the student-athletes participating. Alabama's Nick Saban didn't exactly take a side on the matter, but he did say that if expansion comes, the sport should consider the toll more games would put on players.

"Not having thought much about it, I do think that for college players, with their age, with their responsibility to academics and the things they have to do that we're pretty much closing in on the limit of how many games they should be playing and how we can still fit them in," Saban said. "In our league, you'd have to win 15 games to win [the national championship in a playoff]. If you expand the playoff, you'd have to win more than that."

Under the current format, four teams will compete in the College Football Playoff, meaning there will be two semifinal games before a national championship game. That's after Power Five conferences like the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 have their conference championship games following the regular season. The Big 12 no longer has a conference championship game.

"I have always been concerned with the length of the season," Freeze said. "But it's so financially profitable that I'm not sure that there would be any interest [in shortening the regular season]. If you end up going to a longer playoff, there has to be talk of cutting the season back a game, at least.

"The workload that would be on these young men, I would think you'd have to look at shortening the season some if the playoff is expanding."

While Freeze suggested cutting the regular season by a game, Richt didn't have a specific number for the regular season. Saban, however, threw out the idea of eliminating conference championship games in order to make room for an expanded playoff and cut down the burden of an extra game between the regular season and the playoffs.

Fortunately for the SEC, its champions aren't strangers to longer seasons, Saban said, as the conference champion has played in the last eight BCS national championship games.

"Our conference championship ... every time we've played in it, it is a playoff," Saban said. ... "Whoever wins goes on, whoever loses goes home. In our league, I guess we already have an expanded playoff."

Throughout the week, players and coaches have applauded the new College Football Playoff, but have gone back and forth on the idea of it ever expanding. Outside of just the extra wear and tear on players, Richt hopes a larger playoff field won't dilute the regular season and its significance.

"Let's remember how exciting the regular season is in college football," he said. "If you start going eight or 16 teams, you're going to diminish the importance of some of those games."