The teams are flawed, sure. But there is zero doubt that the conference’s own schedule contributed to its demise. Here's a radical solution to fix the Pac-12's woes.
The schedule has caused significant big-picture, post-season havoc in what is quickly becoming a forgettable fall for Pac-12 football.
The season began with quarterbacks in the spotlight and teams in the playoff chase but has deteriorated to the point that the Pac-12 is the only Power Five conference unofficially eliminated from playoff contention.
Three weekends left, and the Pac-12 is a bystander, although not an innocent one — at least not in one respect.
The teams are flawed, sure. But there is zero doubt that the conference’s own schedule contributed to its demise.
Too many instances of competitive disadvantages.
Too many egregious demands on the teams and the players.
One could make a reasonable argument that USC, Washington and perhaps even Washington State would be smack in the middle of the playoff race if not for quirks in the schedule that helped derail the season.
It’s tough enough to finish 13-0 or 12-1 when all things are equal.
When your prospects for victory are undermined by unfair logistical demands — logistical demands not placed on teams in the other Power Fives — the result is playoff elimination before the middle of November.
Friday night road teams are 0-4 after playing a conference game the previous Saturday: USC lost at WSU, WSU lost at Cal, UCLA lost at Utah and Washington lost at Stanford.
Three of the four Friday night losers were favorites in the game.
And three of the four were playoff candidates.
Add it all up: the brutal schedule demands, the poor playoff position and the complaints (from coaches) about the application of targeting and the night game complaints and the PR hits. Again, no other Power Five has these issues, and it’s clear the Pac-12 football product needs help.
Fortunately, the Hotline is here with a solution, not for 2017 or ’18 but for the long haul.
The Pac-12 should create a competition committee, modeled loosely on the NFL version, that serves as the governing body for all football matters.
It would have ultimate authority on issues that directly impact the on-field product, from the regular-season conference schedule to the post-season bowl lineup, from officiating to recruiting to any and all matters that impact the football product.
In terms of bringing dollars and exposure to the campuses — both carry immense direct and indirect benefits — nothing matters more than a thriving football brand.
Right now, the brand is not thriving. It’s getting eliminated from the playoff and bumped from FS1 and roasted by Kirk Herbstreit and Rick Neuheisel and blinded by the Friday night lights.
So why not create a 13-person committee that makes football priority 1A -through – 1Z?
There are impediments to the Hotline plan, of course, and the two greatest are these:
1) The conference power brokers (commissioner Larry Scott and the presidents) would have to relinquish some control.
2) The NCAA has a competition committee that oversees the sport. The Pac-12 version would have to work within the parameters (rules and accepted practices) established by the NCAA group, thereby limiting its scope on some issues.
But whatever flexibility exists, the committee would have the authority to act in the best interest of Pac-12 football.
Scheduling would be an obvious area of focus. Currently, teams make their own non-conference arrangements and send those dates to Pac-12 HQ, which then outsources responsibility for creating the master schedule.
Once the scheduling company slots all the conference games into the available remaining dates.
As one coach told the Hotline: “We schedule to schedule. Other conferences schedule to benefit their teams.”
The Pac-12’s approach has not changes over the years even though the process has gotten more complex … more fraught with potential problems … due to the weeknight games and the creation of the football championship game.
The Pac-12 needs an oversight committee to look out for the teams — to avoid competitive disadvantages:
* No more Friday road games that follow Saturday road games.
* No more sending teams on the road to face opponents that have an extra week to prepare.
* Limit the number of night road games to the best extent allowed by the contracts with ESPN and Fox.
(If there is no room to maneuver — the networks paid for the night windows and are entitled to their money’s worth — then make a trade:
(Offer ESPN and Fox another six-day selection option in exchange for a per-team cap on night road games.
(The six-day options are unpopular with fans and therefore suboptimal for business, but the night road games are bad for … wait for it … the players.)
The competition committee would examine every schedule, identify problem spots, and find solutions before, for example, Cal gets asked to play a short-week road game against a team coming off a bye (2016) … or Washington State is asked to play three night road games in a four-week span (2016) … or USC is forced to play 12 in a row with a Saturday-road/Friday-road double-whammy (2017).
The committee would advise on non-conference schedule decisions …
It would have access to all contracts with the TV partners …
All in the name of creating 12 schedules that put as many teams in advantageous positions as possible and eliminate the instances of competitive disadvantages.
How would the committee work? Who would serve? And for how long? I’ve thought about that, too.
In order to get buy-in from Scott and the presidents, it would have to be diverse in makeup, equal in representation and give voice to the academic side:
* Three rotating athletic directors.
* Three rotating head coaches.
* Three rotating directors of football operations.
* Three rotating faculty athletic representatives.
* One chairperson (with voting privileges): Deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, because the conference must have a voice and Zaninovich is viewed as an inclusive, honest broker by the campuses.
(On matters of football scheduling, there would be a 14th, non-voting member who serves as the liaison to the TV networks: associate commissioner Duane Lindberg, who currently handles that responsibility.)
Each school would be represented by one of the rotating positions, with two-year terms. The representative would, of course, work closely with his/her school on all matters in order to speak as one voice.
(In the committee room, the process would be collaborative — of that, I have no doubt: The Pac-12 is nothing if not collaborative, sometimes overly so.)
The group would meet in person in December to review the season, plan strategy and vote on the upcoming year’s schedule. (The date would have to work around the new early-signing period.) If that means the master schedule isn’t released to the public until January, so be it. Better to get it right than get it out early.
The committee would also gather in early May at the Pac-12’s spring meetings, to brief conference and campus officials on all developments, and it would meet again in July, in connection with the conference’s annual pre-season football media event.
Additionally, there would also be regularly-scheduled teleconferences to raise concerns, to provide updates on initiatives and research, and to vote (if necessary).
Zaninovich would set the agenda and keep the processes moving.
In regard to non-conference schedules, the committee would enforce the A-B-C model: one Power Five opponent, one Group of Five opponent, one FCS opponent.
Any team invited to participate in the Week One showcase games in Texas and Georgia would be encouraged to do so, except Stanford and USC.
Notre Dame fills the A-level commitment. Playing the Irish and a second Power Five opponent is just not smart — at least if the goal is to compete of a berth in the four-team playoff.
Obviously, many upcoming non-conference games are already set. Signed contracts would be honored, of course. But the committee would work with the campuses on all future openings.
The committee would have ultimate authority for the bowl lineup — although not College Football Playoff matters: That’s a commissioner-level matter — and for any logistical issues requiring a coordinated effort, such as the setting of practice policy (i.e., number of contact days) and training methods.
The head of football officials (currently David Coleman), would report to the committee through a liaison, Woodie Dixon, the conference’s general counsel and sport-supervisor for football.
The committee’s authority on recruiting would be limited, because of intense NCAA regulation in that realm.
And there would be restrictions of committee authority on issues in which the Pac-12 works with other conferences — it cannot play by its own rules when other schools are involved.
But even then, it would be thinking about, and working toward, solutions and procedures that best serve Pac-12 football.
The product … the brand … needs a governing body, represented by the conference and the campuses, that’s solely dedicated to its best interests.