The NCAA Division I Council announced Wednesday that it will relax restrictions on college football’s conference championship games, allowing conferences to determine the teams that would participate in their respective title game. The decision paves the way for conferences to avoid having title-game matchups determined by division winners as well as possibly eliminating divisions altogether.
It didn’t take long for a Power 5 conference to change things up. Minutes after the NCAA announcement, the Pac-12 announced that starting in 2022, the conference’s title game would feature the teams with the two highest winning percentages.
“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,” said Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff in a news release. “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.”
In its release, the Pac-12 outlined how, in five out of the past 11 years, divisions have kept the conference’s title game from featuring a different matchup that includes two teams with better rankings. In 2011 and 2012, for example, the conference title games would have featured Stanford and Oregon — both ranked in the top 10 those two years — had it not been for divisions, which allowed an unranked UCLA team and then a 9-5 UCLA team to play in the title game instead of an 11-1 Stanford team and an 11-1 Oregon team.
As the Pac-12 made sure to note in its announcement, the conference originally brought this motion of deregulating title games to the council. The motion, according to the Pac-12, was “unanimously supported by all FBS conferences.”
This news has also been a long time coming for the ACC. In 2014, the conference first started pushing for deregulation as it relates to the divisional format, believing every league should have the right to determine how to run its championship game.
But the legislation the ACC initially proposed never passed. When commissioner Jim Phillips took over the ACC in 2021, he said the league would once again revisit this topic — echoing the thoughts of his predecessor, John Swofford. Only, at this moment in time, deregulation has made its way across the college football landscape. Eliminating the divisional format seemed like the next logical step.
Like the Pac-12, the ACC believes scrapping the divisional format will allow for more compelling matchups, more opportunities for teams to play each other and the opportunity to get multiple teams into the College Football Playoff. Since the inception of the playoff, the ACC has made seven appearances (six of them by Clemson), while the Pac-12 has had only two appearances.
The potential scrapping of divisions will have ripple effects on conference scheduling. The Pac-12 said in its release Wednesday that even though the current conference football schedule, based on two divisions, will remain in place for the 2022 season, scheduling scenarios for seasons beyond 2022 will continue to be reviewed.
At the recently concluded ACC spring meetings in Amelia Island, Florida, the league discussed getting rid of divisions and moving to a 3-5-5 scheduling format: three permanent rivals for each team, and then rotating through the remaining 10 league teams — five one year, five the next.
Though the ACC did not take a vote on the divisional format, all indications are this will pass at some point and go into effect for the 2023 season.
“The two drivers to this: One, is the opportunity for our student-athletes to play every school in the ACC over a four-year period of time,” Phillips said last week. “The other piece of it is, I’ve always felt that was a local decision about how you handle your conference. You’re seeing that across multiple conferences that they’d like to dictate what their championship structure looks like, and which will lead into eventually an expanded football playoff.
“You want your two best teams to have a chance to play at the end of the year for a lot of reasons.”