The pursuit of a media rights deal and the decision on expansion are the biggest issues facing the Pac-12, but they’re not the only unresolved issues with long-term implications.
For example, the football schedule for the 2024 season and beyond needs to be reconfigured without the Los Angeles schools but potentially with one or two new members.
What format works best to secure multiple bids for the Expanded College Football Playoff? Should the Pac-12 go back to the divisions? Should he go ahead with nine conference games or move to an eight game model?
On that last issue, we believe there is a third option.
The Pac-12 should seriously consider playing 10 conference games each season.
That would be a radical move, no doubt. No other major college league plays 10 games within the conference. But the Pac-12 must think radically and act strategically as the sport undergoes unprecedented change on countless levels, from the spending habits of fans to the technology behind product delivery, to the economic pressures facing departments athletics to the structure of Power Five and CFP.
College football in the late 2020s and into the next decade will be nothing more than a fraternal twin to the current game. In all aspects, including media rights, expansion, and the football schedule, the conference must create a proper foundation for the future.
The Hotline has never been shy about suggesting radical ideas for the football calendar. We first broached the concept of a 10-game conference season in February, after Ohio State called off a two-way series with Washington. Since then, we have given the subject further thought and become convinced that it deserves serious exploration.
That said, the conference is likely months away from any final scheduling decision. The ongoing existential crisis requires clarity, of course, but so does playoff expansion. To what extent will the strength of the schedule affect the selection process, not only in the ranking of the conference champions (for the six automatic offers), but also in the candidates for the six overall slots?
Trading one of the three non-conference games in favor of a 10th league matchup would likely improve the quality of the schedule, but it would definitely increase the total number of conference losses.
(Our hope is that the CFP creates a process whereby candidates are rewarded for playing in challenging lineups, in part to encourage schools to schedule outstanding non-conference games.)
If the strength of the schedule carries the weight it should in the selection process, then a 10-game conference slate makes sense for the Pac-12 on numerous levels.
Of course, it would require expansion. You can’t play 10 conference games in a 10 team conference.
If the membership piece falls into place, any decision on the conference schedule would require a delicate balance:
— Should be optimized for playoff bidding.
— It must address the needs of sports department budgets.
— You need to consider the reality of the supply side of a restructured Power Five.
That reality has become very clear with Brigham Young.
In 2021 BYU was an independent and played five games against the Pac-12.
In 2023, he is a member of the Big 12 and will play zero games against the Pac-12.
The Cougars were an ideal non-conference foe in many respects, providing a quality matchup without encumbering travel demands.
In the complicated world of football programming, geography works against the Pac-12. Only two of the top 10 university conferences are based in the western third of the country. The Pac-12 simply doesn’t have as many easy, cheap, and close Group-of-Five options; nor are there that many FCS schools in the region.
Meanwhile, the cost of game guarantees, the money paid to a visiting team outside of the Power Five, is skyrocketing. It’s not unusual for teams in the Group of Five to demand more than $1 million. The SEC and Big Ten have more teams in close proximity and more money to spend than the Pac-12.
But if a non-conference opponent is replaced by a league foe, the financial calculus changes. The host school keeps their entrance receipts and does not pay a guarantee, while the visitor covers their own travel.
Also in dwindling supply (or so it seems): the availability of high-end non-conference games.
Faced with the reality of conference road games in Los Angeles and a reluctance to make two trips to the West Coast in the same season, Ohio State abandoned the home-and-away series against Washington in 2024-25.
Others could follow Ohio State’s lead and limit the number of home-and-home series they schedule with schools in the Pacific time zone. (Yes, neutral-site games in Atlanta, Arlington, Las Vegas and Los Angeles could be options for the Pac-12 in the next era, but their number is limited.)
Adding a conference game would reduce the need for an A-level opponent each year.
Or it could replace a cupcake opponent and make home time that much more appealing.
Either way, it would give the Pac-12 control over a greater percentage of the overall schedule (schools are responsible for non-conference games) and potentially put more teams in position to succeed.
The Pac-12 must get creative with the schedule to maximize revenue, viewership and access to the playoffs.
You should consider conference games on Labor Day Sunday weekend.
You should consider non-conference matchups in November and league games on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
And depending on the playoff selection process, the Pac-12 must take a hard look at a 10-game conference schedule. In the next era of sports, the place to be is outside the box.
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*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed in this document do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.