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Why does the Pac-12 want playoff expansion? (duh!)

It’s little wonder that league officials are still lobbying for change, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong

The College Football Playoff logo is shown on the field at AT&T Stadium before the Rose Bowl between Notre Dame and Alabama.
The College Football Playoff logo is shown on the field at AT&T Stadium before the Rose Bowl between Notre Dame and Alabama.
Roger Steinman, Associated Press

This week the people at the Pac-12 Conference, who are always trying to be helpful, announced their support for an expanded college football playoff, hours before Georgia and Alabama played in the national championship. They proposed any of six models for an expanded playoff.

This is the second time in a year the league has made this announcement — as if, they were saying, ahem, didn’t you hear us the first time?

“The Pac-12 is strongly in favor of CFP expansion,” the league wrote, “and we support all of the six most-discussed expansion models that would allow for expansion to occur in time for the final two years of the current CFP agreement.”

Well, duh, of course they’re in favor of CFP expansion; the Pac-12’s motivation behind this declaration is pretty transparent. There have been eight College Football Playoffs, or a total of 32 berths. The Pac-12 has filled only two of them — last among the Power Five conferences. Their last appearance occurred at the end of the 2016-17 season. Late in the 2021 season, it looked like Oregon would end the drought, having climbed to No. 3 in the national polls, but then Utah disabused (and abused) them of that notion, twice in 13 days.

The Pac-12’s solution: If we can’t crack the top four, then let’s simply invite more teams — eight or even 12 — to the party.

The league doesn’t mention its motivation of course — the league’s struggles have been well covered in the media. But there it is: If you can’t get into a club, just make the club bigger. If they can’t win one of the three medals offered in the Olympics, well, then let’s hand out four medals.

Pac-12 officials are not wrong about playoff expansion, though. Everyone with a functioning brain and common sense knows the field needs to be expanded. As noted here previously, there are 32 NFL teams and 14 playoff spots. There are 30 NBA teams and 16 playoff spots. There are 128 FCS schools and 24 playoff spots. There are 130 FBS schools and FOUR playoff teams.

Which one’s not like the other one?

The Pac-12 supports a model that consists of an eight- or 12- team format, which would guarantee the league a place at the table no matter how poorly its teams performed. Only two Pac-12 teams finished in the final regular-season top 25 this season — Utah (No. 11) and Oregon (No. 14). Utah probably would have qualified for a 12-team field under the proposal that simply calls for the 12 best teams (but who decides that and how?).

Another proposal consists of inviting the six highest-rated conference champions and six at-large bids (the original proposal made by the CFP last June when expansion was considered). Any proposal that includes automatic bids for the champion of any Power Five Conference of course guarantees the Pac-12 a berth.

Another proposal would grant AQs (automatic qualifiers) for five conferences and one AQ for the highest ranked Group of Five champion, along with six at-large berths.

The other proposals are for an eight-team format — AQs for the top eight teams; or AQs for the six highest-rated conference champions, plus two at-large bids; or AQs for each of the Power Five conferences and one AQ for the highest-ranked Group of Five champion, along with two at-large berths.


The current CFP contract runs through the 2025-26 season, but many hope the field will be expanded before then.

Last summer ESPN reported that expansion of the playoff to 12 teams could be worth almost $2 billion in annual revenue. So, expansion makes sense in every way — competitive fairness and monetarily.

But whether that helps the downtrending Pac-12 remains to be seen. In the meantime, the league closed this week’s announcement by noting, “The Pac-12 will continue to take a solution-oriented and flexible approach to allow for CFP expansion to occur as soon as possible.”