As expected, the proposal to expand the College Football Playoff from four to 12 teams — which wouldn’t guarantee an automatic berth into the competition for any of the Power 5 conference champions — already has the Pac-12 thinking about what it might need to do in order to maximize its teams’ chances of participation.
The way the new system has been drawn up, the top six ranked conference champs, regardless of conference affiliation, will make it into the field. Which, of course, worries the Pac-12, given that it is the only one of the Power 5 conferences that has regularly missed out on qualifying.
One of the potential moves has been an obvious modification for years and years: Trimming the conference schedule from nine games to eight, which would drive down the number of overall losses in the conference. The Big 12 and Big Ten also each play nine games, but the reality is that the Pac-12 doesn’t have a juggernaut on the order of Ohio State or Oklahoma — and might not ever again, to be honest.
That switch isn’t quite as easy as it might seem, though. Via Jon Wilner:
But there are drawbacks to playing an eight-game conference schedule, starting with the vacancy itself.
Only two of the 10 FBS leagues, the Pac-12 and the Mountain West, are located in the western half of the country. Adding a non-conference game would increase the demand without an equivalent change in supply of logistically reasonable quality opponents.
Yes, there are Football Championship Subdivision teams available (the Big Sky, for example), but many Pac-12 teams already play one FCS opponent, and there is little appetite for adding a second.
For the purposes of ticket sales, fan engagement and TV dollars, most campus officials believe the Pac-12 non-conference schedules cannot become less attractive.
“We’re so challenged,’’ one conference source noted. “If we drop to eight, where do we go (for an opponent)?”
This might be especially challenging for WSU, which famously is (generally) unable to lure big-time opponents to Pullman. Does WSU fill out their schedule with payday games on the road? Do they sign home-and-homes with uninspiring Group of 5 teams? Neither of those do much for trying to sell season tickets. Do they get more aggressive about trying to schedule Power 5 “peers” in other conferences (Kansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, etc.)?
I’m fairly confident that WSU would prefer to keep the nine-game schedule.
The other change, which is far less complicated, is simply eliminating divisions. A conference championship game whose participants are determined by winning divisions always will run the risk of an unranked team qualifying and subsequently upsetting the team that would have been selected for the CFP.
If the Pac-12 were to eliminate divisions, they’d move to a championship game between the first and second place teams, a la the Big 12. In that instance, both should be ranked highly enough that a win over the other ensures a participant in the CFP.
Whatever scheduling questions are raised by the change are not unsolvable. It seems like you could have something like pods where the northwest schools, California schools, and mountain/Arizona schools play each other every year with a rotation of six (or five) of the other eight.
If I were a betting man, I’d guess the conference ditches the divisions but keeps the nine-game schedule until it becomes a problem.
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