The NCAA Division I council announced Wednesday that it will be easing restrictions on college football’s conference championship games, allowing conferences to determine the teams that would play in their respective title game. The decision paves the way for conferences to avoid having title game matchups determined by division winners and potentially eliminating divisions altogether.
It wasn’t long before a Power 5 conference changed things. Minutes after the NCAA announcement, the Pac-12 announced that beginning in 2022, the conference’s title game would feature the top two winning teams.
“Our goal is to place our top two teams in our Pac-12 football championship game, which we believe will provide our conference with the best opportunity to streamline CFP invitations and ultimately win national championships,” said Pac- 12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff in a press release. “Today’s decision is an important step towards that goal and immediately increases both fan interest and media value of our football championship match.”
In its release, the Pac-12 outlined how divisions have prevented the conference’s title game from featuring another matchup featuring two better-ranked teams in five of the past 11 years. In 2011 and 2012, for example, Stanford and Oregon would have appeared in the conference title games — both in the top 10 of those two years — if it weren’t for divisions that allowed an unranked UCLA team and then a 9-5 UCLA team to play in title game in lieu of an 11-1 Stanford team and an 11-1 Oregon team.
As the Pac-12 noted in its announcement, the conference originally brought this motion to deregulate title games to the council. The motion was “unanimously supported by all FBS conferences,” according to Pac-12.
This news was also a long time coming for the ACC. In 2014, the conference first began pushing for deregulation regarding the division format, believing that each league should have the right to dictate how its championship play is conducted.
But the legislation initially proposed by the ACC was never passed. When Commissioner Jim Phillips took over the ACC in 2021, he said the league would revisit this issue – echoing the thoughts of his predecessor, John Swofford. Only at this point deregulation has made its way onto the college football landscape. Getting rid of the division format seemed like the next logical step.
As with the Pac-12, the ACC believes the elimination of the division format will allow for more compelling matchups, more opportunities for teams to play each other, and the opportunity for multiple teams to advance to the college football playoffs. Since the start of the playoffs, the ACC has made seven appearances (six of them by Clemson) while the Pac-12 has only made two appearances.
The potential cancellation of departments will adversely affect conference planning. The Pac-12 said in its release Wednesday that while the current conference football schedule, which is based on two divisions, remains in place for the 2022 season, planning scenarios for seasons after 2022 will continue to be reviewed.
At the recently concluded ACC spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., the league discussed eliminating divisions and moving to a 3-5-5 planning format: three permanent rivals for each team and then a rotation through the remaining 10 league teams – – five in one year, five in the next.
Although the ACC has not voted on the division format, all indications are that this will eventually happen and come into effect for the 2023 season.
“The two reasons for this: One is the opportunity for our student-athletes to play at every school in the ACC over a four-year period,” Phillips said last week. “The other part of it is I always felt that this was a local decision on how you handle your conference. They see that across multiple conferences that they want to dictate what their championship structure looks like and which will eventually lead to an expanded football playoff.
“You want your top two teams to have a chance to play at the end of the year for many reasons.”