A conference-only schedule? How Pac-12’s latest idea could create a major ripple effect across college football

Even if college football returns on time or close to it, the schedule that you see online may not reflect the actual games you’ll watch.


After all this time and all the possibilities, permutations and scenarios, the Pac-12 has provided yet another variation. During a media conference call Monday, USC coach Clay Helton volunteered that an 11-game conference-only schedule was discussed at the recent Pac-12 virtual meetings and is under consideration.

In other words, no non-conference games. A quick glance at the schedule illustrated the huge ripple effects of such a decision.

For example, scratch Alabama vs. USC in Arlington to open the season.

Also potentially wiped from the schedule: Colorado at Texas A&M, Arizona at Texas Tech, TCU at Cal and Oregon State at Oklahoma State.

Then throw in major national games like Ohio State at Oregon, Michigan at Washington and Stanford at Notre Dame.

In a sport, where games are routinely scheduled a decade or more in the future, schools may be trying to fill gaps on remarkably short notice.

Already a report surfaced that TCU, which had that opener with Cal, would possibility pinch-hit for USC against Alabama at AT&T Stadium.

Makes sense since both would be looking for opponents on the same weekend. Alabama will probably be No. 1 or close to it to start the season. TCU isn’t likely to be ranked but the game would mark the debut of top running back recruit Zach Evans. Plus, the Horned Frogs are a short bus ride away.

No one has confirmed the talks, in part because the Pac-12 schedule decision won’t be made until around July 1, Helton indicated. Speculation abounds.

“There’s already scrambling going on,” ESPN host Paul Finebaum said during an appearance on the network. “Alabama plays Southern Cal in the first game of the season at Jerry’s World, and there’s already talk going on between Alabama and TCU about meeting instead of the other two because TCU plays at Berkeley and the California schools, they do not believe, will be available for that date.”

There were other developments too Tuesday. Los Angeles County is likely to extend its stay-at-home order through July, according to the LA Times. And the head of the California State University system suggested the majority of classes at the 23 universities – including San Diego State, San Jose State and Fresno State — will be online this fall. The impact on football? Who knows.

Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork, whose team plays Colorado and Fresno State at home, could be facing as many as two openings depending on what happens.

“We haven’t had any conversations with Colorado at this stage because I don’t think they really know what it means,” Bjork said, noting that conference-only was just one of several Pac-12 scenarios. “So until they have anything official, there’s no movement from a scheduling standpoint.”

Bjork admits he’s been checking a scheduling app and playing “what-if” to make sure he’s prepared. The only comparison he can really make is to games that have been canceled in the past by tropical storms and hurricanes. But what if he has to fill two games?

“I haven’t really had time to map that out, to be honest with at what the impact will be,” Bjork said. “So is it more of a regional type of scheduling format you look for in the nonconference – who’s available, what other games are canceled?”

In-between Zoom calls Tuesday, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby noted the “interesting health components” to the non-conference schedule.

“If you’re going to try to make it all the way through a football season, you need to be assured that those you’re playing against are using the same methods to ascertain good health that you’re using,” Bowlsby said. “I think the conference-only season probably has that attractiveness for some of the leagues.

“In our case, we wouldn’t do that unless we had the season pushed back or something like that because obviously we would only have nine games.”

Bowlsby said he understood that athletic directors were putting into place contingent plans should the non-conference schedule start to disintegrate.

“There’s just an enormous amount of uncertainty,” Bowlsby said.

One consequence of conference-only schedules would fall on the College Football Playoff selection committee, which has weighed key non-conference games in its process.

Head-to-head competition is one of the committee’s criteria for deciding between comparable teams.

“It makes it very difficult,” Bowlsby said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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