Will New Playoff Format Spell DOOM for the Pac-12?

Joshua Whitted Editorials 31 Comments

Playoff expansion is a win for all parties involved, right? Fans would get to see more, varied teams in the postseason. All of the Power Five conferences would theoretically have representation. And the Group of Five would finally get a shot, with its highest-ranked conference champion guaranteed a slot. It’s a win-win-win.

Or so it would seem.

The college football world is a universe of “haves” and “have nots“, and for a while now, the Pac-12 has managed to narrowly stay on the good side of that arrangement. Although the product the conference has displayed in recent years has been underwhelming, it has maintained its standing as a Power Five conference, which gives it significantly more exposure — and most importantly, more money — than the Group of Five conferences that are nipping at its heels.

That could all change if the newly proposed 12-team playoff format comes to fruition. As the clear-cut leader among Group of Five conferences, the AAC could benefit hugely from a guaranteed annual playoff appearance. It would finally be able to capitalize on all of the television deals, big contracts and marketing opportunities that were previously exclusive to the Power Five. In other words, playoff expansion would give AAC programs big-time money. Money that could give it the resources it needs to overtake the Pac-12 as a Power Five conference.

From Twitter

The AAC is threatening the Pac-12.

Josh Pate from 247Sports spoke about this potential power shift recently on his show “The Late Kick“. Pate elaborates on this very subject, suggesting that all of the AAC schools that are located in recruiting hotbeds, such as Texas and Florida — schools that Pac-12 programs like Oregon have routinely mined for talent — will finally have the ability to keep local prospects home with larger budgets.

Pate didn’t pull any punches in forecasting the outcome of the Pac-12 as a result of this, saying, “They [the AAC] are going to overtake the Pac-12 in time if this [the new playoff format] goes through. I don’t see any way around that.”

Do you agree with this dismal outlook? Will playoff expansion lead to the end of the Pac-12 as a Power Five conference?

Joshua Whitted 
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Tom Corno

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I seriously doubt this will ever happen. Especially not going to affect Oregon with ” NIKE ” by your side. These teams no matter that their budgets increase it’s still the same level for everyone else. Either way Oregon should benefit a lot more than any of those schools as I just don’t see the AAC doing anything to oust us. Also our new Commissioner should be a whole lot better than Tennis man Larry.

You would have figured that Harvard degree would have done a whole lot
of good for the conference but Larry was just Larry and we got the wrong Harvard Grad that’s for sure. From what I hear about the new guy is he just makes money and that’s what we need and that’s to bring this conference right back to the top because that’s where it belongs.

The conference of Champions should be the Conference of Champions. Nothing more nothing less. Its also good the new guy will have a Football mind helping him with Football matters which is our number 1 sport. Merton the Rooster Hanks. I’m a Niner fan as much as a Duck and Merton was fun to watch not to mention he was to me a great player.


Since 2000, every P5 conference champ has been in the top 6 for all conference champs, except last year. If the P12 had played a full schedule, I’m guessing they would have again made the top 6.

I don’t have a problem with unlimited teams making the playoffs, but I do have a problem with the money going to the conferences. The first team gets a full split, then subsequent teams get partial splits. ACC, P12 and B12 have more votes, so they should control the money. We can’t have the B1G and SEC bringing home 3 times the amount of money vs the rest of the conferences.

SEC: LSU, Georgia, Florida
ACC: Clemson
B1G: tOSU, Wisconsin, PSU
B12: Oklahoma, Baylor
P12: Oregon, Utah
AAC: Memphis

SEC: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU
ACC: Clemson
B1G: tOSU, Michigan, PSU
B12: Oklahoma
P12: Washington

SEC: Georgia, Alabama, Auburn
ACC: Clemson, Miami
B1G: tOSU, Wisconsin, PSU
B12: Oklahoma
P12: USC, UW


An undefeated Power 5 conference champion has never been left out of the playoffs. A single loss champion has never lost out to a team with 2 losses. The committee likes to talk about strength of schedule, but it only comes to that when splitting hairs. They have gone with the better record every time.

J Duck

Someone other than Oregon needs to be good at football, USuC and sUCLA would be helpful, more teams deserving of second tier bowls instead of 5th tier, and at least one sure playoff team, 2 would be better obviously.

The Pac will continue to be relevant in softball and baseball, WBB and hopefully MBB…and we’ll continue to dominate in all the “Olympic” sports. Getting rid of Loser Larry can’t hurt. Let’s see what the new guy can do.

Jon Sousa

The AAC can rise to Power 5 status without the PAC 12 losing Power 5 status. Power 5 would just become Power 6.

Who owns the Rose Bowl? It is traditionally a game between the PAC 12 and the B1G. As long as the PAC 12 controls any part of the Rose Bowl, it will always be Power conference.

How many good teams does a conference have to have in order to be a Power conference? How many does the ACC have? Currently only one, but it also has Blue Bloods Florida State and Miami. The PAC 12 has USC, Oregon, Washington, and a few outliers who could make a move up with one good hire of a head coach who wants to stay and build (look out for Oregon State!)

Unless you haven’t figured it out yet, I don’t think the AAC will push out the PAC 12. Years down the road the AAC might be considered more powerful than the SEC (Vandy anyone?)

Jon Joseph

With a 12 team playoff, wither the Rose Bowl?

Under the proposed PO expansion plan, 2 out of 3 years the RB would host a quarter-final game with no assurance that a B1G or Pac-12 team would be in the game.

In the outlying year, on 1/1, the RB will be going up against the PO quarter final games played on NYD. And with 2 B1G teams likely in PO field and the hopefully, the Pac-12 champ at least, the RB will not have a very attractive match-up.

I expect the RB trustees, the B1G and the Pac-12 will do all they can to get the RB to hold a PO game every year.

I’d like to see the RB and the Sugar as permanent semi-final sites but the semis will be played later in January.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Joshua, it is articles like this that have always made your Op-Eds so exceptional. I did not even think of this unintended consequence of the newly suggested Playoff format! Great catch…

And like Jon, if the Pac-12, with our vast audience, resources, tradition, etc. cannot outperform the AAC, then we deserve our fate.

Jon Joseph

Looking at ESPN’s Bill Connolly’s (BC) S+P projections for 2021 offers hope for the Pac-12; especially, versus the AAC.

BC’s S+P has been one of the better CFB forecasting models. Since the playoff started, BC has picked 3 of the 4 PO teams every year and 1 year went 4 for 4.

BC notes that in 2021, the Pac-12 has more returning production on its rosters than any other P5 conference. He also notes that the Pac-12 gets a bad rap and that the ACC, even with Clemson, is not on par with the Pac-12.

S+P 2021 top 20 projections for the Pac-12: Oregon 5 (48% chance to win in Columbus); UW 11 (54% chance to win in Ann Arbor); USC 17; ASU (notwithstanding recent NCAA issues) + Utah – 18; UCLA 21 (UCLA with a 50% chance to win versus LSU! Perhaps I will need to offer an apology to Ryan? Sure hope so.)

S+P 2021 top 20 projections for AAC: Cincinnati at 15. (Cincy’s OOC slate picks up with games at Indiana and at Notre Dame.)

So, if BC is correct and I sure hope he is, I may well have been too negative in my earlier evaluation of the Pac-12 compared to the AAC?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I did not see that coming. THANKS for bringing it to us with all the good news from one pundit at least. He says Pac-12 > ACC? Cool.

The only negative? I wish his projections for USC and Washington were reversed…. :)


And Phil Steel has UW as his dark horse playoff team in 2021.

Jon Sousa

So, here’s a question for you puppy haters. Would it be more satisfying for Washington to simply become irrelevant and be a non issue, or for UW to be perennially on the edge of the playoffs (or PAC12 Champions) only to have the Ducks knock them down and be the playoff team instead?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

A great question that I think deserves an article of its own later!

Jon Joseph

1 reason I want to see divisions go. Yes, it would be a re-match but if Oregon and UW finish 1 +2 they both need to be in the champ game.


Great topic by the way! I think the AAC will have a couple two/three schools that will benefit but just like the Pac that’s it. They have teams like OSU/WSU/CU in their ranks too. Those teams will not recruit well and will make due. There are big brand names in the Pac that will be able to offer more in the form of better facilities and exposure (NIL). It does all boil down to how the new commissioner (CEO) handles the Pac (corporation). If we have more “Lounge Suit Larry” leadership we’ll have to compete in the Big Sky.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I would like to think that the star players in the Group of Five, will want to use to the transfer portal to enhance their NIL and exposure in the Power 5. Thus some of their progress could be blunted by the portal?

Lou Farnsworth

Great discussion point Josh. And, Jon, well responded to. That 8 vs. 9 game issue is HUGE. And…for YEARS… Larry Scott (in)famously sat there…. and…. did…. NOTHING about it! If Kliavkoff follows suit… we are begging for the AAC to replace us at the P5 table.

Jon, your suggestions, regarding a feasible trajectory through a possible P12 restructuring, struck me as being well thought out and deserving of some serious discussion.

Jon Joseph

Thanks Lou. From what I have read to date, George Kliavkoff is seriously considering going to 8 games and dropping divisions.

Unlike Scott, I believe GK will listen to the conference ADs and coaches.


Interesting take, and the AAC is moving up, the question is can the Pac-12 stop it’s decline?

The fist step was to get rid of lavish Larry, well done. Now we need to see if the new commish can right the ship. The conference needs more money and exposure. It won’t be hard to exceed what Larry did, but to get an extremely advantageous position from where we are will be difficult. The game started and the Pac-12 was caught flat footed.

The other item is sc has to get it’s act together. People keep noting the recruiting is picking up at sc. Helton has had the talent in the past. Just look what he did to Oregon high school phenom Hufanga. A sure thing 1st round talent ends up looking like a fool playing for sc. Until sc gets rid of Helton the Pac-12 will suffer. We need a strong sc to create demand for our product.

The other program is ours, Oregon needs to rise up. Oregon has the history of innovation and flash kids want to be a part of. We need to have that innovation and flash. Right now we have the talent, but, in my opinion, little innovation or flash. It is time for Oregon to get it’s mojo back. This season we need to see scoring, and a stifling defense.

The 12 team playoff doesn’t matter as much as having competitive teams in the Pac-12. If we have teams the audience, fans want to watch, then the Pac-12 will thrive again. There are two programs this hinges on, the next couple seasons will be telling.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Agreed, it is all up to Oregon and the opportunity currently within a weak conference is there for the taking, and long-term.


The PAC 12 should survive. However, if football is one of the main revenue sources to a conference, and you use football recruiting as a measuring stick of future success. Oregon, and USC are the main contenders for the expanded playoffs in the near future.

An expanded playoff may not help the conference if it doesn’t have improved leadership and management. The conference paid a big price for someone that promised to deliver huge revenue/equity numbers through ownership of the PAC 12 network. In the end, the revenue management delivered was small when compared to what other conferences generated and shared.

An expanded playoff won’t end the PAC 12, only poor management of the conference will do that.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Wowsa. A powerful final sentence that is so true…


Totally agreed!

Jon Joseph

Thanks Joshua.

A solid argument can be made that the AAC top to bottom has already passed by the Pac-12. Could any Pac-12 team last season have given Georgia the game Cincinnati did? UCF recently throttled Stanford. Houston and Memphis have had success. And Navy from time to time is a solid team that has recently played Notre Dame as well as have SC and Stanford. SMU, Temple and Tulsa have also had their moments.

Now, consider the AAC under the outstanding leadership of Mike Aresco, perhaps adding Boise State, San Diego State, Fresno State, Troy, App State and/or Louisiana? (Sark + Texas best be ready for the 2021 home opener vs the Ragin’ Cajuns. Last season, LA beat Iowa State by 2 TDs in Ames.)

The Pac-12 best hope that the conference made a solid hire with the new Commish.

The playoff will expand to 12 teams. Too much money not to do so. And with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey being one of the folks who recommended going to 12, all systems are go for playoff expansion.

In order to be a contender, the Pac-12 has to stop shooting itself in the foot.

BK the Pac-12 network or sell the equity to a media partner that will own and operate the network. Larry’s network has hurt and not helped CFB + CBB.

Drop divisions. Play 8 conference games. Play the 9th game on Championship Weekend; 1 vs 2, 3 vs 4, etc. This will assure that the 2 best teams in the conference in a given year are playing for the title. It also eliminates the extra champ game so that the conference champ does not, in theory, play 17 games on its way to the playoff title game. Also means another home game for half of the conference.

IMO, forget about a neutral site for the champ game. Reward the #1 seed with home field advantage. Assuming the #1 seed wins the conference championship, makes the playoff field and advances, that’s one less round of travel for the best team’s fans.

Also, schedule for success. Do not schedule a Friday night game for any team that played on the road the prior Saturday. And OOC, get the lay of the land. If the PO Committee does not reward tough scheduling OOC, simply continues to count Ws and Ls, then do not play Ohio State and UGA OOC.

BTW, if the Pac-12 champ is not among the 6 highest ranked conference champs than it has no business being in a playoff.


Outstanding points to ponder! I agree wholeheartedly.

Thanks Joshua for this discussion article!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Wonderful idea on the ninth game being the championship, and making a champion without adding another game. Perfect!

Great stuff Jon.


I think dropping the 9th game is key. It’s been a disadvantage since a playoff format started. You conceivably add one more win to each team in the Pac and all teams records look as good as the SEC.

However, as long as ESPN controls the narrative, the Pac 12 will never gain the respect they deserve. Not enough talking heads watch our games.

Jon, your comment about a champ not being ranked in top 6 not deserving to be in playoff sounds good, except they plan on 12 teams!
And the ranking system is always biased towards the east. I don’t agree with it often. So I think power 5 teams need automatic entry. If a 3 loss team makes it, which is highly unlikely, so be it. There will always be a controversy in playoff selection. To limit a conference winner based on a most unlikely scenario seems foolish to me.

Jon Joseph

The current proposal has the 6 highest ranked conference champs and 6 AL, chosen by the PO Committee, in the field. No guarantee for the P5.

In last year’s COVID-crazy season, Oregon, ranked 25, would not have been in the field.

Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina were the 5th and 6th ranked champs and would have been in.

No team ranked 25 is going to get an AL bid.


Last year was goofy. Not typical.
My point is that the ranking system is subjective and biased against the P12.

Nothing has been finalized about the playoffs yet, that’s why I want to see a guarantee for the P12. I don’t trust the ranking system.

Jon Sousa

Your idea of the 9th game being the championship game and everyone else playing each other on the same weekend makes a lot of sense. One of the reasons that the league didn’t want to go to an 8 game conference schedule was a money issue. If everyone schedules a more-or-less cupcake for the 4th ooc game (like a certain conference in the South does), there will be no appetite for watching it on TV or for buying a ticket to see it in person… = loss of revenue. (Yes, I read this in an article. It was part of the discussion.)

One problem with the idea is that there would be a lot of rematch games on championship weekend which may put a damper on excitement for it.

Jon Joseph

There would be re-matches, yes. But to date, no school that played 9 conference games has won the championship.

Lou Farnsworth

Game, set, and match!