Cal Football: Pac-12 Announces Game Cancellation Policies, Tiebreakers

Jeff Faraudo

It would be possible for a football team to win its division title in the Pac-12 Conference having played just four games, according to new cancellation policies and tiebreaker procedures announced by the league Monday.

It’s also possible — although seemingly unlikely — that two teams from the same division could wind up playing in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 18.

Welcome to Pac-12 football in the era of COVID-19. Lots of new potential scenarios and policies to govern all of them.

The Pac-12 is scheduled to begin a seven-game, conference-only schedule on Saturday, Nov. 7. Cal will host Washington that day to open its season.

Given the threat of COVID-19, the Pac-12 established minimum thresholds to play a game of 53 available scholarship players and the following minimum number of position scholarship players available to begin a game: seven (7) offensive linemen, one (1) quarterback and four (4) defensive linemen.

FBS teams are allowed up to 85 scholarship players, so dropping to the minimum threshold of 53 would require at least 32 players to be unavailable.

Cal has five scholarship quarterbacks, including three freshmen or redshirt freshmen, plus walk-on Robby Rowell.

The Bears carry 19 offensive linemen, 14 of them scholarship players, and nine defensive linemen, eight of them scholarship athletes.

Pac-12 teams will submit a full roster to the conference office before the first games.

According to the conference protocols, the impacted school has the option to play the game with fewer than the 53 scholarship players or fewer than the minimum number of position players listed above if it elects to do so. Otherwise, upon approval by the commissioner, the game would be rescheduled or declared a no contest.

In addition, a game should be rescheduled or declared a no contest in the event of the following COVID-19 related impacts:

  1. Inability to isolate new positive cases within a team or athletic department or to quarantine high-risk contacts.
  2. Unavailability or inability to perform testing as provided by the Pac-12 medical guidelines.
  3. Campus-wide or local community transmission rates that are considered unsafe by local public health officials.
  4. Inability to perform adequate contact tracing consistent with governmental requirements.
  5. Local public health officials of the home team state that there is an inability for the hospital infrastructure to accommodate a surge.

The Pac-12 news release does not indicate when a rescheduled game might be fit into a schedule that has no bye dates. Sunday or Monday, perhaps?

Teams are currently scheduled to play six games (five against their division opponents and one cross-division game) before the weekend of Dec. 18-19. The division winners will meet on Friday, Dec. 18 in the Pac-12 title game, with the remainder of the conference playing a final, cross-division game on Saturday, Dec 19.

So if games are more likely to be canceled than rescheduled given COVID-19 issues, it’s possible that not all teams will finish the six-game schedule with the same number of games played.

Thus, the Pac-12 devised a tiebreaker system to determine division champions in the event that one team has played six games and the other just five or fewer.

The division champion will be determined by winning percentage, so a 6-0 team and a 5-0 team both have 1.000 percentages. But a 6-0 team and a 4-0 team would not require a tiebreaker, as the Pac-12 explains here:

In order for teams to be considered in a divisional tiebreak scenario, teams must play no less than one fewer conference game than the average number of conference games played by all conference teams (rounded up/down at .50). For example, if the average number of conference games played in the 2020 season is 5.25 (value of 5 when rounded down), a team would be eligible to win its Division if that team played 4 conference games.

Still, if the only two unbeaten teams in a division finish with 5-0 and 4-0 records, respectively, a tiebreaker would be required and a school that played just four conference games could actually win the division.

*** Here’s how the Pac-12 explains the tiebreaker procedure:

In the event of an unbalanced schedule where there is a tie for the best record in the loss column, head-to-head results will take precedence over winning percentage.

In determining the divisional champions, the following will apply: If any team(s) has not played six (6) Conference games (due to not being able to reschedule a postponed Conference game) and any team(s) is within one Conference win from the team(s) with the highest conference winning percentage AND has an equal number of losses, those teams shall be declared tied.

The following procedures will be applied to determine the Pac-12 Championship Game representatives:

Two-Team Tie

  1. Head-to-head results
  2. Record in games played within the division
  3. Record against the next highest placed team in the division (based on record in all games played within the Conference), proceeding through the division
  4. Record in common Conference games
  5. Team with the highest College Football Playoff (CFP) ranking
  6. Cumulative winning percentage of each tied team’s Conference opponents
  7. Highest ranking by SportSource Analytics (Team Rating Score metric) following the last weekend of regular-season games
  8. Coin toss

Multiple-Team Ties

The following procedures will only be used to eliminate all but two teams, at which point the two- team tiebreaking procedure will be applied:

  1. Head-to-head (best record in games among the tied teams)
  2. Record in games played within the division
  3. Record against the next highest placed team in the division (based on record in all games played within the Conference), proceeding through the division
  4. Record in common Conference games
  5. Team with the highest College Football Playoff (CFP) ranking
  6. Cumulative winning percentage of each tied team’s Conference opponents
  7. Highest ranking by SportSource Analytics following the last weekend of regular-season games

*** So how, exactly, could two teams from the same division be matched in the Pac-12 title game? What would have to happen for, say, Cal and Oregon, to play for the championship on Dec. 18?

Here are the circumstances — however unlikely — that would create that scenario:

Tiebreak Procedures to Determine Conference Championship Participations if Average Number of Conference Games Falls To 4 OR Below (Unbalanced Conference Schedule)

In the event that the average number of conference games falls to 4 or below, the two teams with the best winning percentage (both divisional and cross-divisional) within the conference will participate in the Pac- 12 Football Championship Game (regardless of division affiliation). In order for teams to be considered in a tie-break scenario, teams must play no less than one fewer conference game than the average number of conference games played by all conference teams (rounded up/down at .50). For example, if the average number of conference games played in the 2020 season is 4.25 (value of 4 when rounded down) a team would be eligible to participate in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game if that team played 3 conference games.

Under this scenario, the participants in Pac-12 Football Championship Game will be determined by the best winning percentage within the conference. In the event of an unbalanced schedule where there is a tie for the best record in the loss column, head-to-head results will take precedence over winning percentage.

If the teams remain tied, the following procedures will be applied to determine the Pac-12 Championship Game representatives:

Two-Team Tie

  1. Head-to-head
  2. Record in common Conference games
  3. Team with the highest College Football Playoff (CFP) ranking
  4. Cumulative winning percentage of each tied team’s Conference opponents
  5. Highest ranking by SportSource Analytics (Team Rating Score metric) following the last weekend of regular-season games
  6. Coin toss

Multiple-Team Ties

The following procedures will only be used to eliminate all but two teams, at which point the two- team tiebreaking procedure will be applied:

  1. Head-to-head (best record in games among the tied teams)
  2. Record in common Conference games
  3. Team with the highest College Football Playoff (CFP) ranking
  4. Cumulative winning percentage of each tied team’s conference opponents
  5. Highest ranking by SportSource Analytics following the last weekend of regular-season games
  6. Coin toss

*** The Pac-12 also provided tiebreaker criteria for determining which school will host the conference championship game:

The home team in the Pac-12 Championship Game will be determined by the record in all Conference games. In the event of a tie, the following procedures will be applied to determine the home team:

  1. Head-to-head competition, if applicable
  2. Record against the next highest-placed common opponent in the Conference (based on recording all games played within the Conference) proceeding through the Conference
  3. Record in common Conference games
  4. Team with the highest College Football Playoff (CFP) ranking
  5. Highest ranking by SportSource Analytics following the last weekend of regular-season games
  6. Coin toss

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