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How the Pac-12’s potential collapse affects the expanded College Football Playoff

If the conference folds, will the CFP format change again?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Semifinal Game Fiesta Bowl
The College Football Playoff logo on the field before the VRBO Fiesta Bowl college football national championship semifinal game between the Michigan Wolverines and the TCU Horned Frogs on December 31, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pac-12 conference, once considered a rising force in the college football ranks, is on the brink of a complete collapse. USC and UCLA were already set to move the Big Ten in pursuit of additional media dollars, and now Oregon and Washington are set to join them. That, combined with Colorado’s return to the Big 12 and both Arizona schools set to join the Buffaloes, means the Pac-12 is now down to five teams. California, Stanford, Utah, Oregon State and Washington State are now left in limbo, though the Utes appear to be headed to the Big 12 as well. Four teams, quite obviously, is not enough to field a real conference.

All this comes against the backdrop of an expanded College Football Playoff, which was set to reward a conference championship regardless of affiliation. This type of incentive was seemingly going to protect conferences left behind in the TV media rights madness. Here’s a look at what the expanded format was going to look like.

There would 12 teams in the field, with the committee’s six highest-ranked conference champions automatically getting in. The assumption was the Power 5 conference champions would be favored in this evaluation, meaning the Pac-12 would have at least one representative in the playoff. But what if there’s no Pac-12 at all?

The first path would be no change to the format, meaning another Group of 5 conference like the MAC, Mountain West or Patriot League could be boosted. That likely would draw some ire from Power 5 at-large teams, who would argue they have superior resumes to these conference champions who are only getting in due to the automatic berth. So much for inclusion, right?

The second path would be the removal of a conference championship spot for the Pac-12, giving five spots to conference champions and seven at-large spots. This would hamper the Group of 5 schools and other mid-major conferences, not that the Power 5 (4? 3?) would be truly concerned with that.

The third path would be a complete revamp of the expanded field. After all, this is a material change to the playoff. Would there be a push for 16 teams, with more at-large bids to account for the growing SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 conferences? Would there be a removal of conference championship spots entirely?

We’ll see how this all plays out, as there’s sure to be more movement down the line. The ACC looms, with Florida State and Clemson likely eying a move to the SEC. Miami would make a push to join them, while Louisville, North Carolina, Duke and North Carolina State could have homes in the Big Ten or Big 12. Would the remnants of the ACC and Pac-12 combine to form a weird cross-country conference?

Nothing can truly be taken off the table in this college football landscape. The potential collapse of one Power 5 conference is set to start a chain reaction, and even the College Football Playoff won’t be spared.