The pursuit of a media rights agreement and a decision on expansion are the most significant issues facing the Pac-12 but hardly the only unresolved matters with long-haul implications.
For instance, the football schedule for the 2024 season and beyond must be reconfigured without the Los Angeles schools but, potentially, with one or two new members.
What format works best for securing multiple bids for the expanded College Football Playoff? Should the Pac-12 return to divisions? Should it plow forward with nine conference games or drop to an eight-game model?
On that last topic, we believe there’s a third option.
The Pac-12 should seriously consider playing 10 conference games each season.
That would be a radical move, to be sure. No other major college conference plays 10 intraconference games. But the Pac-12 must think radically and act strategically as the sport undergoes unprecedented change on myriad levels, from the consumption habits of fans to the technology behind product delivery, from economic pressures facing athletic departments to the structure of the Power Five and CFP.
College football at the close of the 2020s and into the next decade will be nothing more than a fraternal twin to the current game. In every regard, including media rights, expansion and the football schedule, the conference must create a foundation that’s suited for the future.
The Hotline has never been shy about suggesting radical ideas for the football schedule. We first addressed the concept of a 10-game conference season in February, after Ohio State canceled a home-and-home series with Washington. Since then, we have given the issue deeper reflection and become convinced it merits serious exploration.
That said, the conference is likely months from any final decision on the schedule. The ongoing existential crisis requires clarity, of course, but so does the expanded playoff. To what degree will strength of schedule impact the selection process – not only in ranking the conference champions (for the six automatic bids) but also the candidates for the six at-large berths?
Swapping one of three nonconference games in favor of a 10th conference matchup probably would improve the schedule quality but definitely would add to the total number of losses for the conference.
(Our hope is the CFP creates a process by which candidates are rewarded for playing challenging lineups, in part to spur schools to schedule tough nonconference games.)
If the schedule strength 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:
• It must optimize for playoff bids.
• It must address the needs of athletic department budgets.
• It must consider the supply-side reality of a restructured Power Five.
That reality has become all too clear with Brigham Young.
In 2021, BYU was an independent and played five games against the Pac-12.
In 2023, it is a member of the Big 12 and will play zero games against the Pac-12.
BYU was an ideal nonconference foe in many regards, providing a quality matchup without taxing travel demands.
In the complicated world of football scheduling, geography works against the Pac-12. Only two of the 10 major college conferences are based in the western third of the country. The Pac-12 simply doesn’t have as many easy, cheap, nearby options from the Group of Five; nor are there as many FCS schools in the region.
Meanwhile, the cost of game guarantees – the money paid to a visiting team outside the Power Five – is soaring. It’s not unusual for Group of Five teams to demand more than $1 million. The SEC and Big Ten have more teams in close proximity, and more money to spend.
But if a nonconference opponent is replaced by a conference foe, the financial calculation changes. The host school keeps its gate receipts and doesn’t pay a guarantee, while the visitor covers its own travel.
Also in dwindling supply (or so it seems): the availability of high-level nonconference games.
Faced with the reality of conference road games in Los Angeles and loath to make two trips to the West Coast in the same season, Ohio State bailed on the home-and-home 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, Las Vegas and Los Angeles could be options for the Pac-12 in the next era, but those are limited in number.)
Adding a conference game would reduce the need for an A-level opponent each year. Or it could replace a cupcake opponent and make the home schedule that much more appealing.
Either way, it would give the Pac-12 control over a greater percentage of the overall schedule – the schools are responsible for the nonconference games – and potentially place more teams in position for success.
The Pac-12 must get creative with the schedule to maximize revenue, audience and playoff access.
It should consider conference games on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
It should consider nonconference matchups in November and conference games on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
And depending on the playoff selection process, the Pac-12 must take a long, hard look at a 10-game conference schedule. In the sport’s next era, the place to be is outside the box.