Pac-12 scraps divisions moments after NCAA paves way
By RALPH D. RUSSO
The Pac-12 announced Wednesday it was scrapping its divisional format for the upcoming football season moments after the NCAA Division I Council tossed out requirements that dictate how conferences can determine a champion.
The Pac-12 will now pair the teams with the highest conference winning percentages in its title game after 11 seasons of matching winners of the North and South divisions.
Other conferences are expected to follow, most notably the 14-team Atlantic Coast Conference. The ACC is looking to implement a new scheduling model as soon as 2023.
Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack said it was unlikely the ACC would follow the Pac-12 and get rid of its divisions this year.
"I don't think you'd see it. We've already released our schedule for 2022. But we could do it with 2023," said Wildhack, who's on a subcommittee trying to figure out the best format for the conference schedule. "No reason we couldn't do it in 2023."
To have a conference title game, NCAA rules previously required leagues to split into divisions if they could not play a full round-robin schedule. The 10-member Big 12 wound up deciding to resume its title game even without divisions in part to raise the profile of the winner for playoff consideration.
That was clearly on the minds of Pac-12 executives, too.
"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," Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff said. "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."
The D-I Council also approved a Football Oversight Committee recommendation meant to aid with roster management, lifting the yearly scholarship cap of 25.
While the maximum of 25 so-called initial counters will be waived for the next two years, the overall scholarship limit of 85 per team in the Bowl Subdivision and 63 in the Championship Subdivision will remain in place. The change, backed by the American Football Coaches' Association, is aimed at helping teams replenish rosters that have been thinned by transfers.
Still pending is a proposal to set designated periods when players can enter the transfer portal and be immediately eligible at a new school. Football coaches proposed two, multiweek dates, starting after the regular season in late fall and again after spring practices typically end in late April.
Because similar windows would likely be needed for other sports that proposal is being handled by the NCAA's Division I transformation committee, which is expected to hand down recommendations this summer.
The Pac-12 said its the nine-game conference schedule based on divisions in place for this season will be unchanged, but models for future seasons will be reviewed.
The ACC is considering a 3-5-5 model for football scheduling that would have teams playing three opponents as permanent scheduling partners annually, then rotating the other 10 teams over two seasons in the eight-game schedule (five one year, five the next).
The change addresses two issues with the current seven-team divisions and one permanent cross-over rival set-up: Conference members going years without playing each other and imbalanced divisions that have at times created lopsided matchups in the league title game.
Without divisions, a conference would be more likely to have its two most accomplished teams in its championship game and improve its chances of having a team or two selected to the College Football Playoff.
The Pac-12 noted that five of its 11 championship game matchups would have been different if the conference had matched its two best teams instead of division winners.
The Big Ten and Southeastern Conference are also considering future scheduling models and whether to stick with divisions.
The Big 12 is pondering a return to a divisional setup as it prepares to welcome four new members in 2023, which could increase the number of teams in the conference to 14, at least temporarily.
Texas and Oklahoma are set to leave the Big 12 after the 2024 season and join the Southeastern Conference. Incoming Big 12 members BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are expected to join the conference by 2023.
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report.
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Updated May 18, 2022