Let's look at two statements for a moment. The first one: "Is he as smart as half the people in this room?" The second: "Is he as smart as any other person in this room? Is he as smart as half the people in this room?"
Note the difference between those two statements. Technically, the first one is just part of the second one. But divorced from the sentence that comes before it in the second example, it's a slightly different statement. It becomes less musing about the intelligence of subject and more suggesting that you think his intelligence is subpar.
Which brings us to Nick Saban's quote about Ohio State, the limits of Twitter and how some media members love to make it sound like coaches are trolling one another. Enter Matt Hayes:
Saban on strength of SEC six in top 10 last year: "How many would Ohio St have beaten? Would they have won 3? I don't know."— Matt Hayes(@Matt_HayesSN) May 28, 2013
Now, cue outrage from Ohio State -- though this commentary was actually pretty level-headed, if you consider the fact that it's acting off a chopped-up version of Saban's remarks (more on that in a moment). And cue criticism from somewhat impartial observers, who point out that Saban didn't even beat three of those teams last year. How dare Saban say such a thing.
Well, he didn't. Not in the truest sense. Sure, those words actually came out of his mouth. But a lot more words came out of his mouth, some that magically didn't make it into Hayes' tweet but casts a different light on what Saban said. Here's the broader context for Saban's remarks, as reported by Pat Forde:
Under the tragically flawed current system, the greater goal is to go undefeated than to play the best competition possible. To that end, Saban was asked Tuesday about the possibility that Ohio State – undefeated but on NCAA probation last season – would have taken the Crimson Tide’s spot in the national title game last year.
Which gave Saban a chance to take a shot at both the current system and the Buckeyes, who played a soft 2012 schedule.
"How well would they have done if they played the six (SEC) teams ranked in the Top 10?" Saban asked. "Would they beat them all? Would they beat three of them? And I think they have a really good team and Urban (Meyer) is a great coach. I’m not questioning any of that. I’m just saying that’s where strength of schedule and who you play don’t get sort of accounted for quite equally."
Now, Forde can't help himself from joining the band of those who see it as a shot at Ohio State, but at least he provides the broader quote. And as someone who happens to listen to a lot of Nick Saban press conferences and interviews, I and a lot of other SEC fans know Saban's cadence and the way he talks a little bit more. So for our B1G brethren who don't pay as much attention to Saban, let me help.
First, he thinks it's a stupid question. This is something Nick Saban does fairly regularly with something he thinks is a stupid question -- he responds by asking the reporter questions. No one knows what would have happened last year if Ohio State hadn't been banned from a bowl. That's, because, you know, Ohio State actually was banned from a bowl.
Would the extra pressure have gotten to the Buckeyes? (Look at Terry Bowden's record at Auburn under NCAA sanctions and afterward. He lost fewer games in both of his sanctioned seasons combined than in any single season after that.) Would voters have accounted for the strength of schedule difference? Would Ohio State have made it into the Top 2, given that they were never higher than No. 3 in the one poll they were eligible for (AP)? It's a great source of speculation and all, but it's unknowable.
So how well would Ohio State have done if they faced the six SEC teams ranked in the Top 10? Maybe they would have beaten all of them. Maybe they would have beaten three of them. But we don't know, at least in part because Ohio State played a schedule that would make Bill Snyder blush. And nowhere in his comments does Saban actually suggest it's one or the other, unless you chop off the middle part of the quote.
Saban's also, though, making a point in what he thinks college football should do to get past this situation. Forde again:
Saban said Tuesday he’d like to see everyone from the five major conferences play 10 games against its peers – nine in league play and one in non-conference, leaving two guaranteed home games against lightweight opponents. Schools playing a traditional non-conference rival -- Florida-Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville -- should not opt to drop that game in event of a nine-game league slate.
Saban pointed out that his program is scheduled through 2017 to play a heavyweight non-league opponent: Virginia Tech this year, with Wisconsin, West Virginia and Michigan State twice in years to come.
In other words: Saban was asked about Ohio State's schedule in the context of whether their weak resume would have trumped Alabama's because the Buckeyes were undefeated. He went out of his way to compliment the team, but noted that it's unclear how well Ohio State would have done if they had played a more difficult schedule. The way to do this is to go to a nine-game conference schedule and add a BCS nonconference game to the mix. That puts teams at relative parity and makes for a better fan experience to boot. And Saban was trying to find a way to illustrate that to his SEC colleagues, who are fighting a nine-game SEC schedule tooth and nail.
Saban wasn't criticizing Ohio State; he was criticizing the current system and his fellow SEC coaches for helping it survive. Too bad the media was too busy looking for a fight with Urban Meyer to notice.