This has to be a little strange.
Bob Bowlsby has 14 days left as Stanford athletic director, and despite that, there didn’t seem to be a tinge of awkwardness at the Pac-12’s annual summer meetings as conference leaders shuffled past the next Big 12 commissioner in a low-key hotel ballroom on Saturday.
“I’ve got a lot of investment in the Pac-12, so it wasn’t awkward at all. They didn’t even make me go out in the hallway for some of the discussions,” Bowlsby said with a chuckle. “I don’t really know that we were going to talk about anything that I didn’t already know. I don’t know if I spoke up much except when I was called upon.”
Yeah, sure. In about two weeks you go from being a member of a conference on record wanting a conference champs-only playoff format and a special place in the postseason structure for the Rose Bowl to running a rival conference which is diametrically opposed to the first and unconcerned about the second. Other than that, it’s no big deal, right?
Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re in complete lockstep with the SEC, either. That conference’s decision to stick with an eight-game schedule made this inevitable:
“The [Pac-12's] preference is to have conference championships, or at least divisional championships, built into it,” Bowlsby said. “I think all of us agree that some component on strength of schedule is really important. The regular season is so special, but having said that, the early regular season is not as good as it needs to be. We need to encourage people to play games like LSU and Oregon played last year without the risk of taking themselves out of the national championship hunt.
“I think there will be a component of strength of schedule that will be a part of the playoff. I’m quite comfortable in saying that. How we land beyond that will be a topic of debate and discussion.”
That ought to be fun. Especially if long-time Pac-12 observer Jon Wilner’s depiction of the kind of people calling the shots is correct.
But I believe the SEC/Big 12 announcement created — or, perhaps more accurately, exacerbated — the differences in opinion between the longtime partners (Pac-12 and B1G) and the new couple on the block (SEC and Big 12).
The Pac-12 and B1G are more than Rose Bowl partners. The Pac-12 presidents and chancellors have always viewed the B1G as their peer group and vice-versa, not only on the field but in the halls of academia, with the multi-sport scheduling partnership is further evidence of their connection.
They have always, to put it bluntly, considered themselves to possess more high-minded interests than the Big 12 and SEC latter. (Whether that’s actually the case is not for this discussion.)
There’s no way Scott would mention reprising the Plus-One model if he thought it was off the table for his presidents/chancellors and those in the B1G.
Instead … and this is just my reading, based on Scott’s comment and conversations with league officials over time … I believe the Pac-12 CEOs favor of incremental change to the postseason — change that has minimal impact on the Rose Bowl. In their view, that’s best delivered by the Plus-One.
All of which makes you wonder if Bowlsby had any input at all into the new bowl alliance between the SEC and Big 12. And who’s gaming who here.
Also, getting back to an earlier point, what about this?
Pac-12 officials have to be think that the playoff model — especially one with the best four teams qualifying (the SEC plan) — further tilts the national championship scales to the southeast, and away from the west coast.
How reasonable a path to the playoff would USC have when it’s playing nine league games and Notre Dame and a quality B1G opponent as part of the scheduling partnership?
Meanwhile, the best SEC teams are playing eight league games and three non-conference cupcakes, if not four?
Gee, can’t we all get along here?
Now Bowlsby, wearing his Big 12 hat, says that the plus-one isn’t a compromise for the two sides to consider. But if they’re all serious about coming to a resolution before the end of this month, it may be all they have left after three meetings’ worth of sneering and posturing at each other. One thing’s for sure. They’re not going to walk away from that extra paycheck a new title game will bring. Other than that, who knows? I doubt these guys do.