During the infuriating days of the Bowl Championship Series, the Pac-12 sat as one of the gatekeepers to college football’s path to a national title.
It would routinely look down its collective nose at upstart programs from smaller conferences, especially those out West, and brush their championship aspirations aside by demanding they “earn” their way to the top.
There really was no way to do that, of course. The system was essentially rigged.
It wasn’t enough, for instance, when Utah went unbeaten in 2004 with Urban Meyer as coach and Alex Smith as quarterback. Or when Boise State put together perfect regular seasons in 2004 or 2006 or 2008 or 2009.
Beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl (Boise, 2006)? Nope, still didn’t earn it. Beat Alabama by two touchdowns in the Sugar (Utah, 2008)? Nope, still didn’t earn it. Win the damn Rose Bowl (TCU, 2010)? Nope, still didn’t earn it.
College football was a meritocracy, the Pac-12 would explain, and those teams from those leagues just didn’t earn it the way Pac-12 teams did. Fair is fair. No participation trophies here. What are you, a communist?
Well, the BCS is gone and the nearly-as-exclusive four-team playoff is soon to follow. The new plan calls for a 12-team playoff that actually provides access to teams from outside the so-called Power 5 leagues (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC).
The top six conference champions (as picked by a selection committee) get automatic spots in the playoff. There are an additional six at-large bids. While there is almost no scenario where the champions of the biggest conferences (SEC, Big Ten, etc.) don’t get in, officially no league is assured of anything.
Automatic bids can go to any champion of any of the 11 conferences, including the Mountain West (where Boise State still resides). Conversely, any league could miss out if it isn't good enough.
In other words, you have to earn it.
Except now the Pac-12 isn’t so into that concept.
In a statement that may serve as the perfect exit interview for his doomed run as Pac-12 commissioner, Larry Scott took issue with the expansion plan because it didn’t set aside a guaranteed slot to each of the Power 5 (or Autonomy 5) leagues.
“The Pac-12 … believes the Autonomy Five champions should annually qualify,” Scott wrote last week.
The Pathetic-12 is so scared that its champion might get beat out by not just one, but two teams from non-major conferences that it wants to rig the rules so it gets in, even if it doesn’t deserve it.
The commissioners of the SEC and Big 12 were on the committee that wrote the proposal, so neither of those leagues have similar fears. There has been no word from the Big Ten or ACC that they are quaking in their boots over this either.
In fact, the top six champions proposal has been hailed as an innovative and elegant solution to assuring increased access to all of college football. After all, if your conference champion can’t clear this reasonable bar — let alone earn one of the six at-large spots — then exactly why should you be in the playoff? Is top 12 too much to ask? Do we need special rules to prop up mediocrity?
Give Scott credit for this: college football is a uniquely American creation and there is little more American than someone being assured status and advantage based on the accomplishments of prior generations … and then using it to squash new and superior competition that it finds threatening.
This is the codification of daddy’s money, college football-style.
Scott’s league has fallen behind in recent seasons of course. The four-team playoff has been around for seven years and the Pac-12 got just two teams into the field and none since 2017.
Even worse, just last year, after endless delays created a COVID-truncated season, its champion, Oregon, finished 25th in the rankings and, indeed, would have been left out of a 12-team playoff behind AAC champion Cincinnati and Sun Belt champion Coastal Carolina.
That isn’t all the commissioner’s fault — underperforming USC is the main culprit. But Scott's failure to build a conference television network equal to other major conferences has led to a lack of exposure and revenue for league teams.
Scott will leave his job at the end of the month. Coming out publicly to beg for the Pac-12 simply because it’s the Pac-12 is akin to waving the white flag.
It’s embarrassing. Or it should be. Considering the league is made up of big, wealthy, tradition-rich institutions with enormous potential, the Pac-12 champion should easily be able to earn its spot (and other league teams at least one or two at-large berths as well).
Apparently Larry Scott isn't so sure. Besides, earning it is for suckers. Now that the Pac-12 might have to actually prove itself in a real playoff, prove it's really, truly better than Boise State, well, it isn’t even hiding the desperation anymore.
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