*** The Pac-12 Hotline newsletter is published twice a week during the college sports season. (Sign up here for a free subscription.) This edition, from June 23, has been made available in archived form.
Automatic Bids (and blowback)
Larry Scott’s tenure atop the Pac-12 is not ending quietly, which comes as little surprise from a commissioner who revels in the spotlight.
Earlier this month, Scott agreed to an interview with the Associated Press in which he dodged responsibility for the Pac-12’s missteps and directed a mammoth chunk of blame on the schools. For that, the Hotline issued a rebuke unlike any we have offered during his 12 years, save for the time his general counsel called into the instant replay booth and overturned a call.
Last week, Scott issued a public statement on a key aspect of the College Football Playoff expansion proposal. And for that, he has been roasted on the opposite coast.
If you’re unfamiliar with the latest development, here’s the backstory:
Following a meeting of the 10 conference commissioners on June 17 in Chicago, the Hotline reached out to the Pac-12 and asked if Scott planned to comment on the CFP sub-committee’s proposal, which grants automatic bids to the six highest-ranked conference champions but not specifically to the Power Five champs.
Scott did, in fact, have a comment, and it began like this: “The Pac-12 supports expansion of the CFP and believes that the Autonomy Five champions should annually qualify for the CFP …”
That sentiment — that Power Five champs deserve automatic bids to a 12-team event — drew the ire of two FBS commissioners and one national columnist.
First, the American Athletic Conference’s Mike Aresco told ESPN that guaranteed bids for the Power Five champs would be “an enormous step in the wrong direction.”
Meanwhile, the Sun Belt’s Keith Gill issued a statement in which he said playoff berths “should be earned and not given.”
Finally, Yahoo columnist Dan Wetzel eviscerated Scott in a column that carried the title, “The ‘P’ now stands for ‘Pathetic’ thanks to outgoing Pac-12 commissioner’s CFP whining.”
Wrote Wetzel: “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.”
Naturally, the Hotline has a thought — or five — on the situation:
1. While Scott’s reasoning was sound (more on that in a moment), he probably shouldn’t have expressed it publicly and definitely shouldn’t have expressed it publicly in that manner (more on that, too).
2. The root of the issue, in our view, is the Pac-12 participation in the expansion process — or lack thereof.
The sub-committee responsible for the 12-team model spent two years on the process and consisted of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.
Why Scott wasn’t appointed, we don’t know. But combine his absence from that crucial group with his lame duck status these past few weeks — as the expansion model has taken shape — and our sense is the Power Five conference most in need of expansion, and automatic bids, had little-to-zero influence on the process.
3. The automatic berths are a big deal — more important than many fans (and media members) seem to grasp, and here’s why: They help shape the entire structure of your football product.
If you know a berth is guaranteed, it impacts your approach to non-conference scheduling, it affects your decision on the division/non-division format, and it surely plays a role in deciding whether to play eight or nine conference games.
And all that impacts the football inventory available when you sit down to negotiate a media rights deal.
4. As mentioned above, Scott’s rationale is sound.
The Pac-12 should favor automatic bids for Power Five champions as long as the CFP doesn’t account for the difference in schedules from league to league.
Any subjective selection process in which a two-loss team that plays nine Power Five opponents could be viewed more favorably than a three-loss team that plays 11 Power Five opponents is flawed.
To this point, the committee has used the total number of losses as a key determinant for playoff inclusion: There have been 28 bids awarded under the current model, and exactly zero have gone to teams with two losses.
Unless schedule strength is codified in the selection process for the 12-team event, every conference should assume the committee will continue to use total losses as a possible point of delineation in the selections.
That point currently is one loss vs. two losses. Under the expanded format, it would be two losses vs. three losses, or three vs. four. Which is fine, except for the inevitable variance in schedules.
And in that regard, the Pac-12 — because it plays more conference games than the ACC or SEC and because it typically plays tougher non-conference schedules than the Big 12 (nor does it have an equivalent to Kansas) — could be at a structural disadvantage.
5. So yes, it was entirely reasonable for Scott to push for an automatic bid, if for no other reason than to use the issue as a means of codifying the SOS piece.
At least, it was reasonable for him to make the push privately. Whether he should have gone public is another matter entirely.
The Hotline was mildly surprised when the conference responded to our request for comment with an actual comment and doubly surprised when that comment took issue with the sub-committee’s proposal.
No other conference commissioner has gone public with his concerns, although context is required on that front: The SEC’s Sankey and the Big 12’s Bowlsby helped craft the 12-team model, while the ACC’s Jim Phillips has been on the job for just six months and the Big Ten’s Kevin Warren can kick back and let Ohio State solve any CFP access problems.
As we noted at the outset, Scott’s instinct is to lurch toward the spotlight. If he felt compelled to go public on CFP access, the statement could have been phrased more delicately — in a manner that doesn’t leave the Pac-12 quite so deep in the wilderness.
He opted for this:
“The Pac-12 supports expansion of the CFP and believes that the Autonomy Five (i.e., Power Five) champions should annually qualify for the CFP. We greatly appreciate the work of the CFP sub-committee, as well as the thoughtful and productive discussions amongst the management committee this week in Chicago. We now look forward to reviewing the expansion proposal more thoroughly with our members, student-athletes, partners and other key stakeholders.”
We would have offered something like this:
“While the Pac-12 has always supported automatic bids for the Autonomy Five conferences, the model under consideration has merits on numerous levels. We look forward to working with the management committee and our stakeholders to finalize an expansion format that best positions the sport to thrive for decades to come.”
Scott was asked about the response to his comment by The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel, who attended a CFP meeting Tuesday in Dallas.
“Very positive within our league,” Scott said. “But those are the kinds of details everyone will get into next. We really didn’t spend a lot of time on details here, was more kind of high level — lot of support for the overall concept. But there will be a lot of discussion about some of the specifics, including what I commented on last week.”
Where does this latest little mess leave Scott and the Pac-12?
Well, he has seven days left on the job.
On July 1, the conference hands the keys to George Kliavkoff, who, out of respect for Scott, has avoided public comment on all topics since his appointment on May 13.
Central to his success will be the ability to message in a manner that advances the Pac-12 narrative in a disciplined, positive fashion — whether the topic is CFP access or anything else. — Jon Wilner.
Hot off the Hotline
The newsletter didn’t publish last week, as we were blown off course by news on multiple fronts. A sampling of our content from the past 10 days …
• The Pac-12 athletic directors went to Las Vegas last week to meet George Kliavkoff. The day-long gathering included a preliminary discussion of football strategy — specifically, whether to eliminate the division format and change the number of conference games.
• On a personal level, what did the ADs think of the new commissioner? We asked all 12 for their impressions, and six agreed to interviews. Here are the responses, in their own words.
• If true, Arizona State’s recruiting violations during COVID are far more deplorable than the standard cheating and would potentially leave the conference in an awkward spot … if ASU reaches the Pac-12 title game.
• We’re a little less than six months from the football early-signing window. A look at the top Pac-12 storylines on the post-COVID recruiting trail.
• The Hotline spent hours examining the portal and produced our ranking of the top-20 transfers entering the conference. (Or in the case of several players, moving within the conference.)
• Support the Hotline: Receive 90 days of unlimited Hotline access for a mere 99 cents. Yup, three months for less than $1. Details are here.
• Mail call: The weekly Hotline mailbag publishes on Friday. Please send your questions via email to email@example.com.
In the News
(Note: The Hotline newsletter includes links to sites that could require a subscription once the number of free views has been reached.)
• The next step in the College Football Playoff expansion process: a summer review, explains ESPN’s Heather Dinich: “With some of the most powerful people in college football now backing further exploration of the proposed 12-team format, it seems to be a matter of when — not if — the postseason will grow again, but those within the room continue to caution that this is a long, unpredictable process.”
• Among the issues to be resolved: Will the new format start in 2023 or 2026? The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach addresses the tricky matter of timing: “Fans have gotten their hopes up, believing that they would not be subjected to the same few teams dominating the four-team field for much longer. What if that isn’t the case? Why put this proposal out there publicly if it might not be implemented for five full years?”
• The Supreme Court’s ruling on Alston vs. NCAA will have limited impact on football and basketball this season but carries monumental implications for college athletics in the future. Sportico’s Michael McCann, a lawyer in real life, provides high-level insight: “The ruling repudiates a long-standing NCAA argument that it is owed favorable treatment under federal antitrust law. Particularly from the lens of precedent, the NCAA likely regrets appealing the Ninth Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court. That decision led to this new precedent, which will govern the relationship between antitrust law and college sports for decades ahead.”
• In other words, writes CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, the NCAA has been hauled into deep water: “Truth is there are no minor legal contentions with the NCAA. It exists to be sued these days. It chose to go all the way to the Supreme Court over laptops because it can, because powerful people like to stay in power. No matter the consequences. Monday, the NCAA got slapped down in perhaps its biggest legal defeat.”
• The NCAA simply isn’t prepared for the era of Name, Image and Likeness, writes USA Today’s Dan Wolken: “To say that the NCAA isn’t ready for what’s coming is an understatement the size of Mark Emmert’s ego. With no federal law coming from Congress imminently, no rules package for NIL approved yet by the NCAA Division I Council, no system in place for athletes to disclose what kind of deals they’re making and no infrastructure to evaluate whether those deals are within the framework of whatever rules they eventually come up with, we are entering a period where the working assumption is that anything goes and that the NCAA isn’t going to be able to do much about it.”
• In California, the epicenter of state legislation on NIL, the ability for athletes to cash in could be expedited, according to the L.A. Times’ J. Brady McCollough: “The result of all these other states joining our bandwagon is that California colleges could be at a disadvantage,” Sen. Nancy Skinner said, “and our own student-athletes wouldn’t be able to enjoy the rights we want to give them until years after other states. So Sen. [Steven] Bradford [D-Gardena] and I decided we’d better fix that.”
• The NCAA is reportedly in possession of a “dossier” that implicates Arizona State in a series of recruiting violations, reports Yahoo’s Pete Thamel: “Sources said members of the football program deliberately, blatantly and consistently broke rules related to hosting players during the dead period, including coach Herm Edwards meeting with recruits. A source added that the evidence included pictures of the visits, including Edwards with a recruit who ended up enrolling at ASU.”
• Oregon has received a commitment from Dior Johnson, the No. 1 point guard in the country in the class of 2022. He’s viewed as “a sure-fire NBA lottery pick and a budding superstar,” according to the Oregonian’s Andrew Nemec. “Perhaps that’s why the National Basketball League in Australia/New Zealand reportedly offered him $1.2 million to forego college in favor of a jumpstart to his professional career overseas.”
• Good news for Utah’s budget: The shortfall for FY21 was bad (more than $30 million), but not nearly as bad as initially expected, reports the Salt Lake Tribune’s Josh Newman.
• Good news for fans of Jimmy Kimmel: You know the new bowl game in Los Angeles that will match the Pac-12 against the Mountain West? It finally has a name: The Jimmy Kimmel Bowl.
What’s coming on the Pac-12 Hotline:
We’re shutting down for a long weekend but will be back Monday at full throttle. Planned content includes:
• A look at new commissioner George Kliavkoff, who takes over on July 1.
• A look at the impact of Name, Image and Likeness, which kicks in on July 1.
• Last-minute decisions by Pac-12 transfers, who must notify the schools by … July 1.
Yep, that’s a big day around these parts.
The next newsletter is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday. Like it? Please forward this email to friends (sign up here). If you don’t, or have other feedback, let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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