Pac-12 coaches caused a bit of a stir Thursday when they spoke out about the SEC’s recent decision to play just eight conference games, with almost unanimous agreement that it offered the conference an advantage in the new College Football Playoff system.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham and Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez chimed in when questioned on the Pac-12’s post-spring-practice teleconference and agreed that a nine-game conference schedule should be the standard for power conferences.
The argument against the SEC’s eight-game conference schedule, which typically allows SEC schools to schedule a weaker nonconference opponent late in the season, is that it creates an easier path to the four-team playoff that begins this season. With what’s seen as an improved postseason system in place, coaches would like to see fairness across the board.
After initially saying he had no opinion, Graham expressed that sentiment.
"Especially with a four-team playoff and people having to make selections, my deal is that it should all be on an equal playing field," Graham said. "I do think everybody should play the same amount of conference games. Obviously, even with bowl games and things like that, we’re guaranteeing half the teams in our league a loss by playing a ninth conference game."
Rodriguez suggested that the Pac-12’s nine-game schedule will work in its favor when strength of schedule is considered by the selection committee but agreed, albeit reluctantly, that power conference teams should play the same number of games.
"I think every league and every institution is going to make decisions for themselves about how they want to go about their scheduling," Rodriguez said. "In the Pac-12, we’re set. Everybody’s got nine league games, so our strength of schedule is going to be good every year.
"Would I like for every power conference to have nine? Sure. I think that makes it more fair, but I’m not worried about that. Hell, I’m just trying to get a first down right now."
Graham was a bit more expressive and went on to share a few more arguments in favor of a nine-game conference schedule. Fans, Graham said, would rather see teams play a ninth conference game rather than taking on a lower-tier opponent. He also suggested that it’s better financially for teams to play a ninth conference game.
Graham took it a step further, saying he would like to see all power conferences play a nine-game conference schedule and a conference championship game. A conference title game, Graham argued, can be a disadvantage to the teams that do play in them.
"You could be in a situation where you’re undefeated and you go to the conference championship game and you lose," Graham said. "Then you could not be in the four-team playoff, and a team that doesn’t have a conference championship game doesn’t have to play it and therefore they’re in."
Further, Graham suggested it would make sense in the future for an expanded College Football Playoff to include an automatic bid for teams that win their conference championship games.
Nearly every Pac-12 coach agreed that there should be a level playing field in scheduling among the power conferences. Pac-12 newcomer Chris Petersen, who took over at Washington after eight years at Boise State, declined to share his thoughts, while Washington State’s Mike Leach actually gave the SEC credit.
"I think if you’re going to have a playoff, everybody ought to do the same thing — either everybody ought to play eight or everybody ought to play nine," Leach said. "But the SEC has been fairly dogmatic about that, and obviously the scheme is that you’re in the best position to go to bowl games, which that’s not a bad idea. … I can’t say it’s a bad strategy."