The skepticism sense of every fan in the Pacific-12 Conference was tingling when the four-team college football playoff was announced, and that was before BCS executive director Bill Hancock came to the podium to answer questions.
It is well defined after years of slights and screwjobs under the old system, seeing Oregon left out of the title game in 2001, as was USC in 2003. California didn’t make the Rose Bowl in 2004, the Ducks denied the big money the following year.
It is well defined after being told that every game matters, except when it doesn’t. Nebraska getting manhandled certainly didn’t mean as much as a midseason loss to Stanford. Falling in triple overtime on the road was more damning than getting steamrolled by four touchdowns on a neutral field on the last day. The less said of winning on the road at Southern Miss, the better.
It is well defined after going out of the way to make life harder by challenging yourself with intriguing and difficult non-conference games or playing a full round-robin or a nine-game schedule, while everyone else takes the easy way out.
Though the details of the system are still to be finalized, it still feels like the Pac-12 will be behind the eight ball when the new system begins in 2014. The conference has been by far the most aggressive in scheduling quality opposition. There are future games against LSU, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Texas and Notre Dame to be considered, along with the agreement to face Big Ten teams annually starting in 2017. Will strength of schedule really matter or is just an invitation to load up on creampuffs and start every year 4-0, as they always do in certain parts of the country?
Just this past season, Oregon traveled to a neutral site to play the eventual SEC champions. Replace that trip to Texas against LSU with a home game against SJSU, the rest of the campaign plays out as it did and the 11-1 and conference champion Ducks certainly would have played for the crystal ball.
More than any other conference, the Pac-12 must ensure that the criteria to be used by the selection committee rewards teams that challenge themselves, especially on the road, and win their conference. In no future system should Oregon be passed over for a Stanford team they pummeled 53-30, as they did last year, ending the regular season ranked one spot behind the Cardinal.
And when they make it to the national semifinal, what then? The Rose Bowl is assured a place in the rotation of six bowls that will serve as hosts. Presumably the Fiesta will find its way into the mix as well, but beyond that, expect plenty of traveling. Short of brand new stadiums being built in San Diego or Las Vegas, there are no other quality venues on the West Coast capable of making its way into the gang of six.
Pasadena and Phoenix will surely bid for the championship game, as would the Anschutz Entertainment Group’s proposed building in Downtown Los Angeles, if it ever gets built. Beyond that, expect a heavy dose of Dallas, New Orleans and Miami.
In his nearly two years on the job, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has proven himself too shrewd to have not considered all these factors long before he stepped into a conference hall in Washington D.C. However, some of these issues – geography and time zones, most notably – cannot be resolved by even the sharpest mind.
Make no mistake, Monday was a tremendous step forward for the game. After more than a century, college football is finally going to decide its champion the way every other sport does, by playing it out on the field.
Whether it proves to be a good day for the Pac-12 is uncertain. The conference and its fans bear enough scars to be skeptical.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.