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May 3, 2012

Saban favors four-team playoff

By Brendan Sonnone
Special To Tidesports.com

ORLANDO, Fla. | Nick Saban is in favor of a four-team playoff system to determine a national champion.

The Alabama head football coach has stated that plenty of times, but he's beginning to talk specifics now that it seems inevitable that college football will switch to a plus-one format after the 2014 season.

Saban discussed the topic at length-along with other various subjects- Thursday evening during the Crimson Caravan's tour stop in Orlando, Fla.

"I've always been for plus one," Saban said. "I think one of the most difficult things in having a large playoff is how do you play the games? How do you have finals? How do you implement that relative to what our players already [do]? I know they have one in [Division] I-AA and Division II, Division III and all that. But I think that would be a little more difficult especially because the college bowl system provides a lot of self-gratification for a lot of young people in college football."

He added: "If we played another game, we'd always be able to incorporate the best teams. So you would at least get the best teams and they would play. How they implement that, if they use the bowl system, I think that would be great. But I am not for extending the system into the next semester. I don't think that's fair to college football players. But I think that'd be great for the fans and I think that's what they want."

Saban also isn't a fan of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's proposed conference champion idea, in which the four-teams in the playoff would be comprised of conference winners ranked in the top six nationally.

"The thing I don't want is all this stuff about you got to be a conference champion, then you're not going to get the best four teams," Saban said. "Because some leagues, there's not parity and some have really good people at the top and they should have an opportunity to play in a game whether they win a championship or not."

After answering several more questions about a potential playoff system, Saban was asked to touch on the passing of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau, who died Wednesday from what was ruled a suicide by the San Diego County medical examiner's office.

"It was tough man. That's one of the toughest ones I've ever had to deal with because you're talking about a guy that was a great person," said Saban, who coached the 10-time All Pro in 2005 during his tenure as the Miami Dolphins' head coach. "[He was] one of the most positive, upbeat, caring about his teammates, greatest competitors I have ever been around. Wonderful football player, I can't say a negative thing about the guy…This is a tough one for me man, because I have as much respect for him as anybody in the world."

Saban then switched gears to a lighter subject: The NFL Draft. Alabama had more players drafted (eight) than any other team in the nation this past month, with four going in the first round.

"We're really pleased and happy for our players," Saban said. "We want them to be good people, we want them to graduate from school, but they all want to try to develop careers as football players, which means playing in the NFL. So when we have 14 guys sign contracts, eight get drafted, four in the first round, we're happy that we were able to recruit that kind of character and quality in football players. [I'm] really pleased with our staff and all of the people that work in our program to help those guys develop so that they reach their full potential and have an opportunity compete in the next level."

One other noteworthy topic from Saban's media session was the Crimson Tides' depth at quarterback. It was announced last week that backup Phillip Sims would be leaving the program (revealed Wednesday that he was transferring to Virginia), meaning Alabama would likely be relying on redshirt freshman Phillip Ely to be the No. 2 quarterback behind returning starter A.J. McCarron in 2012.

"Phillip Sims has decided to transfer and go back home for a lot of personal reasons," Saban said. "He's a fine young man, did a great job for us. It will be important now for Phillip Ely to develop and hopefully become our backup. I think the biggest thing for him is consistency…That's the thing, especially playing quarterback you distribute the ball every play, your decision making is the most important thing and that's what's going to be a key for his development."

Saban will be at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center in Birmingham next Tuesday when the Crimson Caravan tour resumes.

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