Pac-12 has discussed conference-only scheduling as future of college football season remains unclear

The coronavirus pandemic that has shutdown the country for the last two-plus months has had a massive impact on the sports world. College football spring practices were shut down, March Madness was canceled, professional sports were put on hold and the future is as clear as mud. College football has the unique challenge of having 130 teams with different revenues and non-conference opponents that were locked in nearly a decade ago.

Those contracts might have to be torn up, however, as the Pac-12 Conference has discussed reworking the schedule to only include conference games.

“It has been discussed in our Pac-12 meetings,” USC coach Clay Helton said on Monday. “It’s been discussed by the commissioners. It’s one of the many structures as we go through this situation and this crisis that possibility of an all-conference schedule. That is one of the structures under consideration depending on where we’re at 6-8 weeks from now.”

Unintended consequences are always on the horizon in uncertain times as well. A sudden change to a schedule that eliminates out-of-conference games would drastically alter the criteria for inclusion into the College Football Playoff.

“If you’re going to a conference-only schedule, how do you compare conference-to-conference? That’s what there has been a lot of discussion about,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “Do we expand the playoff? Because we’re not really going to know how to whittle this thing down to four. Whoever wins these conferences … do they get an automatic bid?”

The uncertainty surrounding the college football season has made one thing clear: there is no playbook for fixing this situation. There is no such thing as a bad idea and everything is on the table.

“With so many unknowns, talking about these scenarios is really the only way that we’re going to have any idea, Shaw said. “If we can play 12 and keep the status quo, that’s great. Many of us believe that it’s not going to be 12 and it might not even start on time. Those other factors are going to effect however the bowl season looks as well as the playoff.”

There’s no doubt that this season will take on a much different tone than previous campaigns. Spring practices were either cut short or eliminated entirely depending on the specific team, and players haven’t been able to work out in their own facilities with strength and conditioning coaches who specialize in getting them in “football shape.” Those two changes alone will likely benefit teams that have experienced rosters and hurt those with massive roster and coaching staff turnover. 

Shaw summed up the current mindset with one sentence.

“I think where we are is the definition of a fluid situation.”

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