The sad truth for the Pac-12 is that its best chance to get a team into the four-team College Football Playoff is to have a bunch of games elsewhere in the country canceled because of the COVID-19 virus.
Nobody with a grain of integrity wants that to happen, but the possibility of a Pac-12 team getting into the national championship playoff is slim otherwise.
As Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports noted Thursday regarding the Pac-12's hope of having a team in the CFP, "Anything can happen. But as long odds go, think of the league’s chances as a Republican running in Vermont."
Technically, a Pac-12 team has as good a chance as any other Power Five conference team. And Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Thursday that there is no minimum-games requirement for consideration, so playing only seven games does not eliminate Pac-12 teams from consideration.
But . . . .
---The Pac-12 does not have a favorable reputation as a football conference. It has not had a national champion since the College Football Playoff came into being in 2014, and has had only one team selected to the four-team playoff since the 2014 season. That one team was Washington in 2016, and the Huskies got blitzed 24-7 by Alabama in the semifinals.
---No Pac-12 team was ranked in the top eight of the preseason Associated Press poll. Oregon, at No. 9, was the only Pac-12 team in the top 15, and USC, at No. 17, was the only other conference team in the top 20. A significant climb would be required. AP reportedly will include Pac-12 teams in its next top-25 rankings on Sunday, and it will be interesting to see where the Pac-12 schools sit.
---With no nonconference games available to show the Pac-12 is better than past years, the perception of the conference is unlikely to improve. Beating other Pac-12 teams won't prove much. Beating other conference teams means a lot in the Big Ten or SEC.
---Playing only seven games does not give a Pac-12 team much chance to show it is one of the four best teams in the nation. We already know that playing in the Pacific time zone makes national exposure difficult. Every other Power Five Conference is playing more games: The ACC is playing 11 games, the SEC and Big 12 are playing 10 each and the Big Ten is playing eight.
---The Pac-12 has the latest starting date of the Power Five conferences, Nov. 6, putting it behind other conferences before it even starts. Every other Power Five conference starts at least two weeks before the Pac-12's debut.
The kicker is that the Pac-12 champion will not even be guaranteed a Rose Bowl berth since the Rose Bowl is one of the semifinal games in the College Football Playoff this year. However, the Pac-12 champion is guaranteed a berth in one of the other four New Year's Six bowls (Cotton, Peach, Fiesta or Cotton this year) when the Rose Bowl is part of the CFP. (The CFP bowl schedule is available here.)
Each conference is likely to get $6 million for every one of its teams selected to the four-team College Football playoff. So there is a lot of money at stake.
No official revenue distributions have been set for the 2020 season, but a look at last year's payouts, as estimated by the College Football Playoff website, gives us a general idea:
The following estimates of the CFP revenue distribution are based on preliminary calculations for the 2019-2020 season and are only approximate projections of potential revenue distribution from each component: As of September 4, 2020, no information has been provided for 2020-2021 policy.
Each of the 10 conferences will also receive a base amount. For conferences that have contracts for their champions to participate in the Orange, Rose, or Sugar Bowl, the base combined with the full academic performance pool will be approximately $66 million for each conference. The five conferences that do not have contacts for their champions to participate in the Orange, Rose or Sugar Bowls will receive approximately $90 million in aggregate (full academic pool plus base), which the conferences will distribute as they choose. Notre Dame will receive a payment of $3.19 million if it meets the APR standard; the other three independents will share $1.56 million.
A conference will receive $6 million for each team that is selected for the semifinal games. There will be no additional distribution to conferences whose teams qualify for the national championship game. A conference will receive $4 million for each team that plays in a non-playoff bowl under the arrangement.
Each conference whose team participates in a playoff semifinal, Cotton, Fiesta, or Peach Bowl, or in the national championship game will receive $2.43 million to cover expenses for each game.
***Cal athletic direcor Jim Knowlton notes that the Pac-12 decision to play a fall season "puts us in the CFP mix":
So how can the Pac-12 break through and get a team into the national championship playoff?
First of all, the Pac-12 champion would have to finish 7-0 and win all its games convincingly.
Secondly, Oregon and USC would have to play each other somewhere along the line, preferably in the Dec. 18 Pac-12 championship game. They are unlikely to meet during the six games before the title game since they are in different divisions, although schedules have not yet been released.
Those are only prerequisites, with a one-loss SEC or Big Ten runnerup -- or possibly even a two-loss SEC team -- likely to get the nod over an unbeaten Pac-12 champ for a CFP berth.
A more important variable for the Pac-12's hopes is the number of games in other Power Five conferences that are canceled.
There have already been 22 games canceled or postponed because of the COVID-19 virus, mostly because contact tracing protocols that require players to quarantine for 14 days if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
And we haven't even reached the heart of the fall football season. A lot more cancellations or postponements are almost guaranteed.
Presumably the Pac-12 champion could back into one of the four semifinal slots if enough games are canceled elsewhere, but getting in by that method would only reduce the reputation of Pac-12 football further.
During a Pardon The Interruption show two weeks ago, ESPN's Tony Kornheiser called the Pac-12 "completely irrelevant."
That is not a good starting point.
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