Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has changed his tune when it comes to College Football Playoff expansion, at least for the 2020 season.
Last week, after the Pac-12 announced it would launch its football season in November, Scott told reporters that there was “no serious momentum or discussion around expansion.”
“We’re committed to traditional dates,” Scott said.
Six days later, Scott suggested expanding the field from four teams to eight teams for the current season. He did so during Wednesday’s CFP management committee meeting, CFP executive director Bill Hancock told ESPN.
The suggestion did not gain any traction. Hancock said the management committee was not on board with the suggestion and the CFP will stick with its four-team approach even during the atypical circumstances surrounding the 2020 season. With the season underway for so many teams, Hancock said the timing would not be right to make “such a significant change.”
"They decided that doing that now would be such a significant change, and come with so many challenges, especially given the timing with the season already underway, that they concluded that the best outcome would be to make no changes in the format," Hancock told ESPN. "They will continue to discuss the future, which is just good, responsible business practice, although I must say that dealing with COVID has become everyone's focus now."
A bevy of teams have already played three games this season, including some in the ACC and a few Group of Five conferences. The SEC just opened play in a conference-only format over the weekend, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 are set to begin play on Oct. 24 and Nov. 6, respectively. The MAC and Mountain West have also announced return-to-play plans after initially postponing their seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the time the Pac-12 returns, there will be some schools that already have as many as seven games played. That delayed start pretty clearly could leave the Pac-12 on the outside looking in for playoff contention.
The Pac-12 struggles to reach college football’s biggest stage even during a normal season. The conference has had a team reach the just CFP twice (Oregon in 2014, Washington in 2016) in the format’s six-year history, so the argument could be made that Scott should have been advocating for an expanded field already.
But based on his statement to ESPN, Scott only considered doing so based on the abnormal circumstances of the 2020 season:
"In light of the pandemic and the varied schedules and reduced number of games — including no nonconference games for most teams — the committee will have to evaluate, I felt it was our responsibility and important to consider an expanded playoff that would include more teams and automatic qualifiers who are conference champions this year,” Scott said.
This season will mark the seventh year that college football’s champion is crowned via the College Football Playoff. ESPN has a 12-year contract to air the College Football Playoff games. That deal expires after the 2025-26 season.
Hancock often points to the length of the contract when the subject of expansion arises. The CFP management committee, which consists of the 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, review the playoff’s format on an annual basis.
Scott’s statement marks the first time a commissioner from a power conference has publicly called for the CFP to expand. For the format to actually change, it would need the backing of the CFP management committee, plus the CFP board of managers, a group of 11 university presidents and chancellors.
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