It’s about time.
The PAC-12 announced a change to their PAC-12 Football Championship game, which will now feature the top two teams in the PAC-12, not the top team from each division.
This should ensure a much more competitive game, especially if one division lacks a true “top team”.
The PAC-12 says that it was a unanimous vote, which is made up of head football coaches, athletic directors, and the board. This is a great opportunity for another PAC-12 to slip into the College Football Playoff as well. It has been hard in years past when the team with the best shot of playing on a more national stage is going up against a team not ranked in the top-15 in the final game of the year that is seen as a make-or-break contest.
“Our goal is to place our two best teams in our Pac-12 Football Championship Game, which we believe will provide our conference with the best opportunity to optimize CFP invitations and ultimately win national championships,” George Kliavkoff, the Pac-12 Commissioner, said via the conference’s press release. “Today’s decision is an important step towards that goal and immediately increases both fan interest in, and the media value of, our Football Championship Game.”
This would have changed the matchup in five of the past 11 seasons. Some of the more interesting ones are as follows:
2011: Original – #9 Oregon vs. UCLA
CHANGE: #9 Oregon vs. #4 Stanford (By the way, Oregon played in the National Championship this season, but they didn’t even play the highest-ranked team in the PAC-12)
2012: #8 Stanford vs #16 UCLA
CHANGE: #5 Oregon vs. #8 Stanford – Once again, the top-ranked team in the PAC-12 was left out of the championship
2020: #13 USC vs. Washington
CHANGE: #13 USC vs #25 Colorado
I know going from unranked to #25 isn’t a massive difference, but to casual viewers, it does. No one wants to watch a championship game with a team that wasn’t even ranked inside the top 25.
This isn’t just a good thing for the conference, but it’s undoubtedly a good thing for its TV partner. The PAC-12 needs a new TV deal when the current one ends, and bringing in big numbers from their title game will go a long way.
In 2021, Oregon was ranked #10, and Utah was ranked #17. There wasn’t much on the line in terms of a College Football Playoff, and although this rule wouldn’t have changed the matchup, you can see that viewers weren’t all that interested.
The game drew just 4.2 million viewers. In comparison, the SEC Championship game drew in 15.8 million viewers, the Big 12 had 8 million viewers, the Big 10 had 11.66, and the ACC had 11.7 million viewers.
See the difference? These other power conferences are blowing the PAC-12 out of the water because there is better competition in their games. Even the AAC, a conference that isn’t in the Power 5, drew in 3.4 million.
The most-watched PAC-12 Championship game in the last decade came in 2014 when #2 Oregon faced #7 Arizona. In that game, there were two top-10 teams, and one was in the mix to play in the College Football Playoff. This clearly matters to viewers. The better the teams, the better the draw for fans watching at home.
The PAC-12 isn’t doing something revolutionary here. This method is currently used by the Big 12, although no divisions exist inside the conference.
But it does raise a question as to whether or not the other Power 5 conferences should adopt this rule.
The SEC has the East and West divisions which always have fantastic teams. However, there have been years where a team like Alabama or LSU in the West is stuck playing a mediocre Alabama team or Florida squad.
Divisions are determined mainly by geography, and it isn’t necessarily fair to assume that because you won the most graphical games in your division, you are automatically one of the best two teams in the conference.
In the SEC, for instance, 2020 should have been Alabama and Texas A&M instead of Alabama and Florida. A&M was a team that argued they should have played in the CFP, and maybe they’d have had that chance if they were included in the title game and beat Alabama.
Perhaps, the worst we had ever seen was in 2015 when #2 Alabama played #18 Florida. This is still better than a PAC-12 matchup with an unranked team or a team that was #25, but some teams that were battling for great bowl games were passed over in this spot. That year, Ole Miss was the 10th-ranked team in the country and had a better record than Florida by a few games but somehow missed out on the game.
This is a great step by the PAC-12. In my opinion, every conference should be adopting this format, but until then, it is good that the PAC-12 will have two of their top teams represented while other conferences may be throwing in a program that has no shot at legit postseason play.