Pac-12 has discussed possibility of playing conference-only college football schedule

Sam Cooper
·3-min read

The Pac-12, like all conferences, is continuing to weigh various contingency plans for the pandemic-affected 2020 college football season.

During a video call with reporters on Monday, USC head coach Clay Helton said the idea of a conference-only schedule has come up. More specifically, Pac-12 teams would play an 11-game schedule against each in-league foe instead of its usual 12-game schedule with nine conference games and three nonconference games.

“It’s been discussed in our Pac-12 meetings, and it’s been discussed by the commissioners,” Helton said. “That is one of the many structures as we go through this situation and this crisis, the possibility of an all-conference schedule. Those are viable discussions and have been brought up in our meetings.”

Helton, who was joined on the call by Stanford coach David Shaw and Washington State coach Nick Rolovich, was clear that the next six-to-eight weeks will be crucial in assessing what sort of adjustments will need to be made for West Coast programs, especially those in California.

Shaw noted that should a conference-only schedule come to fruition, it would have an array of consequences — especially when you compare the Pac-12 to the rest of the country.

“That affects our bowls. That affects the College Football Playoff,” Shaw said. “These are all big conversations we have in our conferences, but it’s also going to take [CFP executive director] Bill Hancock and his group at the CFP to find out how best to finish this great college football season.”

A conference-only slate would also eliminate quite a few marquee nonconference matchups with Pac-12 programs. USC, for example, is scheduled to face Alabama in its season opener in Arlington, Texas. Other highly anticipated matchups include Michigan’s trip to Washington and Ohio State’s game at Oregon.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 06: A general interior view of Levi's Stadium during the Pac-12 Championship football game between the Oregon Ducks and the Utah Utes at Levi's Stadium on December 6, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. The Oregon Ducks won 37-15. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
The Pac-12 has discussed the possibility of playing a conference-only schedule. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Assembling a CFP field could be more difficult

With COVID-19 impacting different regions of the country in different ways, aligning all of the conferences and schools across the country and getting them on the same page for the start of the season does not seem realistic. NCAA president Mark Emmert has admitted as much, so the Pac-12’s conference-only scheduling idea certainly isn’t unique.

In fact, both SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren have admitted that their respective conferences could operate independently in their attempt to resume competition.

“I think where we are is the definition of a fluid situation. Every state is going to be different. Every campus is going to be different,” Shaw said.

With the major conferences potentially operating in different ways just to play a season, the task of assembling a playoff will be an even greater challenge than usual.

“If we go to a conference-only schedule, how do you compare conference-to-conference? There have been a lot of discussions about, for this year, do we expand the playoff? We’re not really going to know how to whittle this thing down to four,” Shaw said.

“With so many unknowns, talking about these scenarios is really the only way that we’re going to have any idea. If we can play 12 [games] and stay status quo, that’s great. Many of us believe that it’s not going to be 12 and it might not even start on time. Those other factors are going to affect however the bowl season looks as well as the playoff.”

Added Helton: “It’s all dictated on the structure of the regular season — whether it’s a 12-game or abbreviated — that makes the change in the bowl or playoff structure. The structure of the regular season will dictate the postseason.”

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