PHOENIX (AP) — While turning Alabama into college football's greatest dynasty, Nick Saban helped the Southeastern Conference become the epicenter of the sport.
“We’ve always had people that set the standard of excellence,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who was in Phoenix attending the NCAA convention when he heard the news about Saban's retirement.
Sankey compared Saban to SEC greats in other sports such as Skip Bertman, who won five College World Series with LSU baseball, and the late Pat Summitt, who led Tennessee's Lady Vols to eight NCAA basketball championships.
“We’ve always benefited as a league from people who are high-achievers on all kinds of different campuses. He’s helped make us better. Everybody wants that mountaintop. And he’s achieved a lot. Since he's been a part of the league we've had I think six or seven different programs that have won national championships.”
The SEC had not yet become the most dominant conference in college football when the West Virginia native who had come up in coaching in the Midwest led the Tigers to their first of three national titles this century.
"While I was sad to see him leave LSU in 2004, I was not surprised at all by his unprecedented run at Alabama," said LSU athletic director Scott Woodward, who was an administrator at the school during Saban's time in Baton Rouge.
After Saban left for the NFL after the 2004 season, the conference started to assert itself.
Florida won a national championship under Urban Meyer in 2006 to start a string of seven straight for the SEC.
Saban returned to the conference in 2007 and by 2009 Alabama had replaced Florida as the dominant team not only in the conference but in the country.
Soon Saban's Crimson Tide would become so strong, winning five national championships in a 10-year span and playing in the College Football Playoff championship game two other time, that Sankey said he had to fend off charges of having a one-team league.
“I never thought that was true, but it sets a standard that everyone wants to attain,” Sankey said.
Michigan's national title this season snapped the latest string of SEC titles at four straight, including Alabama's most recent in 2020 and Georgia's two in row in 2021 and ‘22 under former Saban assistant Kirby Smart.
The SEC has won 14 football national championships, starting with LSU's in 2003, and Saban's teams claim half of them.
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