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Pac-12 notes: Conference championship game shifting to Las Vegas in 2020, 2021; replay process amended

UPDATED: Wed., July 24, 2019, 9:50 p.m.

Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott speaks during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)
Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott speaks during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

LOS ANGELES – After one more iteration at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, the Pac-12 Championship game is finding a new place to call home in 2020.

Wednesday at Pac-12 Media Day, commissioner Larry Scott confirmed the conference’s title game, held in early December, will move to the Raiders’ new home in Las Vegas for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

The announcement contradicts a Tuesday report from Stadium’s Brett McMurphy that stated the game would move to the Los Angeles Rams’ new stadium, Hollywood Park Stadium, in 2020, before going to Las Vegas in 2021. McMurphy reported Wednesday morning “negotiations broke down last minute” between the Pac-12 and Hollywood Park Stadium.

The championship game has been held at Levi’s Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49ers, each of the last four years.

“I’ve had a chance to visit the stadium, see the plans, hope many of you have, as well,” Scott said. “It is truly state-of-the art in every respect. It’ll be convenient. It’s right off the strip, close to the airport, and it’s going to be a fantastic destination for football fans to enjoy the best of Pac-12 football in our championship game.”

While Vegas appears to be the title game site for the foreseeable future, Scott didn’t rule out the possibility the conference would consider other venues and acknowledged the Rams’ new site could be a destination.

“I don’t have anything to announce today,” Scott said. “I expect that our teams will have opportunities to play in the new Los Angeles Stadium, which is fantastic, and something we’re very excited about.

“We announced two years in Las Vegas because we’re really excited about being there in the year the stadium comes live, in the first year of that stadium. We think there will be a tremendous buzz, tremendous excitement throughout our footprint, amongst our fans to be there in those early years. And then we’ll evaluate.”

Scott also spoke about the conference’s “elevated bowl arrangement” in Las Vegas that will pit the Pac-12 No. 2 or 3 team against an opponent from the Big Ten or the SEC. The Las Vegas Bowl previously pitted lower-tier Pac-12 bowl teams against the Mountain West Conference.

“I think fans have been clamoring for a long time to see the Pac-12 go head to head in a bowl tie-in with the SEC,” Scott said. “So it’s no small step that we’ve finally been able to achieve that.”

Pac-12 amends replay process

The commissioner made another announcement that should be music to the ears of Washington State fans.

After the Pac-12 underwent heavy scrutiny in 2018 for a wide array of officiating errors – including two heavily disputed targeting incidents during the Cougars’ game at USC – the conference hired Sibson Consulting to conduct a comprehensive four-month review of “all aspects of the Pac-12 officiating program.”

While the report concluded the conference’s officiating practices were “fundamentally sound and predominantly consistent with industry best practices,” it also targeted numerous holes and areas for improvement, recommending a series of changes.

The Pac-12 has chosen to implement four key recommendations that pertain especially to the league’s replay and review process. They are:

  • The head of officiating to report directly to the commissioner rather than the football administrator.
  • Adoption of a new replay manual codifying processes and procedures that will eliminate the potential for an incident like the one in last year’s Washington State vs. USC game reoccurring.
  • Enhancements to training programs for officials, and more consistency in grading and training from the officiating supervisors.
  • A new communications protocol with more transparency and public comment around significant calls or errors that either impact player safety or the result of the game.

The first recommendation effectively removes Pac-12 Administrator Woodie Dixon from making any officiating decision. Dixon was a central figure in last year’s WSU-USC controversy, overturning a targeting call on Logan Tago in the first half of the Cougars’ 39-36 loss. Officials were later accused of missing a blatant targeting call on USC’s Porter Gustin at a crucial juncture of the game.

New bowl game

The Pac-12 announced the inception of a new bowl game, the Los Angeles Bowl, to the postseason lineup beginning in 2020.

The game will be played at the new LA Stadium, home to the NFL’s Rams, and will pit the Pac-12 against the Mountain West. The bowl game’s current contract will run through the 2025 football season and pairing details will be announced at a later date.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Los Angeles Bowl and bring a Pac-12 presence to the new state-of-the-art facility at LA Stadium, in one of the biggest markets right in our footprint,” Scott said in a statement. “The entertainment presence of the new facility will provide great experiences for our student-athletes and fans.”

Pay-to-play

In recent months, more momentum has formed around the subject of compensating amateur athletes, especially in the wake of California’s proposed “Fair Pay to Play Act.”

Asked for his thoughts on the widely debated issue, Scott reiterated his stance – and that of the Pac-12 – that college athletes should not be compensated or sponsored.

“So we are very clearly opposed to any type of pay-for-play system,” Scott said. “Notably, the federal courts in the Ninth Circuit have also weighed in now on multiple occasions to say they do not support any system for compensation for student-athletes that’s not tethered to education. I think we’d be opposed to the type of system you described, and it would certainly be a violation of NCAA rules.

“Having said that, the NCAA is about to start exploration whether there is a possible system to look at name, image and likeness value for student-athletes that is tethered to education that is not pay for play, and we’ll see where that process goes.”

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