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Pac-12 does away with football championship game format

The game will now feature the two best teams, regardless of division status.

2021 Pac-12 Championship
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, left, announced a big change on Wednesday.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Starting this season, the Pac-12 football championship game will look a bit different: Rather than featuring the winners of the north and south divisions, it will instead feature the two teams with the top winning percentages, regardless of division affiliation, the conference announced on Wednesday.

The announcement came about five minutes (seemingly, anyway) after the NCAA paved the way for the change by removing the requirement* that conference championship games in football feature division winners.

Of course, the Big 12 has been using a waiver to conduct its championship game this way for years, after the defections of Texas A&M and Missouri left the conference with just 10 members — hence the asterisk above. It turned out to be a bit of an accidental boon for the league, allowing its champion to pick up yet another quality win for potential College Football Playoff selection.

Thus, it’s not surprising that the Pac-12 — which has suffered disproportionately compared to its peers in terms of CFP participation — would want to follow suit. What is surprising is that the conference moved with such speed to do something that makes so much logical sense and will so obviously help the league get a team in the CFP.

“Our goal is to place our two best teams in our Pac-12 Football Championship Game, which we believe will provide our conference with the best opportunity to optimize CFP invitations and ultimately win national championships,” Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff said via news release. “Today’s decision is an important step towards that goal and immediately increases both fan interest in, and the media value of, our Football Championship Game.”

George Kliavkoff is not Larry Scott, that’s for sure.

Despite the change, the Pac-12 is keeping the divisions for scheduling purposes, but this upcoming season will probably be the last time. The 2022 schedule is already set, and there’s really no compelling reason to blow that up. However, “scheduling scenarios for seasons beyond 2022 will continue to be reviewed,” according to the conference, so you can expect a new set of scheduling procedures and rotations starting in 2023.

What the scheduling considerations will be is unclear at the moment, but we can assume they will largely be the same that they were the last time we did this when the conference expanded in 2011: The California schools will want to play each other as often as possible, the Washington schools will want to visit either USC or UCLA annually, etc. The fact that this change was supported unanimously by the 12 schools indicates to me that there likely are already preliminary ideas on the table that everyone can live with.

As part of its announcement, the conference noted that about half of the championship games would have had different matchups under the new format, including 2018.

2018. Dammit.

You’ll never convince me that the game wouldn’t have been completely different under better weather conditions. I will absolutely take that to my grave.

There was another interesting change yesterday, as the NCAA removed the limit for two years on football’s “initial counters.” Normally, FBS teams are allowed to sign 25 new players each season. That had been temporarily increased to 32 during the pandemic, but some schools were finding that they still couldn’t fill all their 85 scholarships. I’m curious to see how this goes, given the that the limit of 25 was originally put in to prevent coaches from abusing the system by oversigning and then pushing established players out of their programs.

Other changes were more arcane; you can read about them all here.


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