Sorry, Pac-12: The 6 highest-ranked conference champs makes much more Playoff sense than P5 automatic bids
Oh, the nerve of the Pac-12.
It finally got a “get out of jail free” card. That is, a welcoming Playoff system that doesn’t scoff at a conference who can’t produce national title contenders like the Pac-12. A 12-team field should, based on how the field would’ve played out in past projections, open things up to any FBS conference with a pulse.
Last I checked, the Pac-12 still had a pulse. Sort of.
In case you missed it on Friday, outgoing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott issued a statement saying the conference supports Playoff expansion but believes the Autonomy Five (Power 5) conference champions should receive automatic bids:
“The Pac-12 supports expansion of the CFP and believes that the Autonomy Five champions should annually qualify for the CFP. We greatly appreciate the work of the CFP sub-committee as well as the thoughtful and productive discussions amongst the management committee this week in Chicago. We now look forward to reviewing the expansion proposal more thoroughly with our members, student-athletes, partners and other key stakeholders.”
Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ’em.
You see, if Scott made that comment a month ago, there wouldn’t have been an issue. Of course the Pac-12 should want a system that rewards automatic bids to Power 5 champions. That’s why the league repeatedly was in favor of expansion.
But at the same time, nobody should’ve been celebrating the proposed 12-team model more than the Pac-12. After all, it’s the conference with 0 Playoff appearances in the past 4 seasons, and it has just 2 bids in the 7 years of the system with that lone 2014 semifinal win.
Scott wanted to portray that all conferences are created equal. That’s like saying Rocky 5 and the original Rocky are on the same level. The former has a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes while the latter won Best Picture at the 1977 Academy Awards.
That’s essentially like comparing the Pac-12 to the SEC. To pretend that all roads are created equal is ambitious at best and hysterical at worst. The Pac-12 as 0 national titles in the past 15 years, and the SEC has 11. The Pac-12 has 1 New Year’s 6 bowl victory in the past 4 years, and the SEC has 14.
But I get it. Scott’s reign as Pac-12 commissioner ends this month, and he wants people to forget how badly he screwed up the Pac-12’s TV package during the 2010s while also earning a $5 million salary (the most any commissioner made) because of his role as a “media executive.”
And I also get that Scott probably saw the proposed 12-team model and had a startling realization on behalf of his league. Like, if this were 2020, the Pac-12 would’ve been left out of a 12-team Playoff. Tough look, guy. That’s what happens when your conference champion is a 3-2 Oregon team after a shortened season, which happened because you were at the mercy of the Big Ten. The Pac-12 would’ve had nobody but itself to blame for following the Big Ten’s decision-making. What the Pac-12 did was essentially the equivalent of letting your toddler cook you a 5-course meal.
Who would’ve instead made the Playoff? Coastal Carolina, AKA the champions of the Sun Belt with an 11-0 regular-season record. You know, the team that pivoted from a canceled game vs. Liberty (because of Liberty’s COVID issues) by scheduling a matchup against unbeaten BYU just 2 days ahead of time. The Chants would’ve been the 6th highest-ranked conference champs and gotten the last spot in the field … for going undefeated.
Perhaps that’s why Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill issued a strong statement Friday night saying Playoff bids should be “earned not given.”
“The Sun Belt Conference supports College Football Playoff expansion, including the working group’s recommendation to have the six highest-ranked conference champions in the field. Playoff spots should be earned and not given. Under the proposed system, if you are a deserving team, you should have no concerns of being left out of the Playoff. I look forward to continuing the conversation next week with the CFP Board of Managers.”
What an awful look that is for the Pac-12 to have the Sun Belt commissioner come in and provide all the necessary clarity about what’s fair and what’s not fair about getting into the Playoff.
For what it’s worth, I also asked Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell about the 12-team Playoff. He’s in favor of it and admitted it’s “almost impossible” for a Group of 5 team to make the current 4-team field. What he said he likes about the proposed 12-team model is that if you go out and handle your business (like Coastal Carolina did in 2020), your team has a great shot of making the field. And even though he’s cautiously optimistic about multiple Group of 5 teams getting the nod from the selection committee, he’s still a supporter.
That, Pac-12 people, is what the response should’ve been from your commissioner.
The Pac-12 looks weak for whining about a one-off year with some extremely atypical circumstances of certain conferences choosing to play a shortened schedule. As bad as the Pac-12 has been, it’s worth remembering that in every year of the 2010s, the Pac-12 would’ve still made a 12-team Playoff:
- 2010: No. 2 Oregon, No. 5 Stanford
- 2011: No. 3 Oregon, No. 6 Stanford
- 2012: No. 3 Stanford, No. 7 Oregon
- 2013: No. 4 Stanford, No. 10 Oregon
- 2014: No. 2 Oregon, No. 10 Arizona
- 2015: No. 6 Stanford
- 2016: No. 3 Washington, No. 9 USC, No. 10 Colorado
- 2017: No. 8 USC, No. 11 Washington
- 2018: No. 9 Washington
- 2019: No. 6 Oregon, No. 11 Utah
- 2020: None
That’s why Scott’s statement was incredibly 2020-driven. The Pac-12 shouldn’t have a problem getting at least 1 or 2 teams into the 12-team field in a given year. If Scott is worried about his league getting excluded because of some anti-Pac-12 bias (the 1-4 mark in New Year’s 6 bowls the last 4 years might have something to do with that), I’d argue the whole “6 highest-ranked conference champs” thing is supposed to take care of that. And if there’s anyone who should be a bit worried about the perceived bias, it’s those from the Group of 5.
Yet the Sun Belt is down with the proposed system. Why can’t the Pac-12 take its “get out of jail free” card and go try to start a new life?
Instead, Scott is out here begging for a stretch limo to come pick him up from jail to drive him to his mansion. That’s not how this works.
This system will reward the conferences with quality teams. Back in 2016 when the Pac-12 actually did its part as a Power 5 conference, it would’ve been rewarded with 3 Playoff bids, including one to a USC team with Sam Darnold who many thought could’ve beaten anyone down the stretch.
Two weeks’ notice brain or not, Scott’s comments were a bad look for “the conference of champions.” Champions are supposed to earn their titles. As Gill reminded us, Playoff berths are also supposed to be earned.
In his final days as Pac-12 commissioner, Scott earned himself yet another eye roll from the college football world.