Pac-12 commish: What’s best for playoff ‘very, very low on totem pole’

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Stewart Mandel’s Nov. 16 Forward Pass. For his full column, click here.

As the boarding doors closed on his flight home from Beijing on Saturday night (Sunday afternoon there), Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had just finished watching Oregon upset Stanford on his phone. Utah-Arizona was heading to halftime. Not until he landed in San Francisco 10 hours later would he learn that the Wildcats knocked off the Utes — possibly ruining his conference’s last remaining playoff hopes.

“I was in some suspense waiting to find out the results,” Scott — who visited China for Friday night’s Washington-Texas basketball game — told FOX Sports on Sunday.

His conference is not lacking for suspense these days. Saturday night alone saw games decided on a missed two-point conversion (Oregon-Stanford), a 25-yard touchdown in double-overtime (Arizona-Utah) and a 21-yard touchdown catch with three seconds left (Washington State-UCLA.)


Unfortunately for the league, though, no matter how exciting its remaining games, only one — Notre Dame at Stanford on Nov. 28 — may hold any national relevance. The Cardinal (8-2, 7-1 Pac-12) dropped from seventh to 15th in the latest AP poll … and that’s the highest of any Pac-12 team.

The Big 12 spent this entire past offseason dealing with an existential crisis after being left out. If the Pac-12 is the odd man out this year, the league’s ambitious scheduling model — nine conference games and a championship — will be the inevitable topic du jour. In fact, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich already went down that road last week in anticipation of possibly derailing Stanford, saying the conference “put[s] itself in the worst possible situation” for reaching the playoff.

Scott isn’t buying it, and says that a change in the league’s scheduling philosophy is not even on the table.

“I don’t think it will get revisited based on what happens in one year,” he said. “Our philosophy of taking on all comers … is good for the student-athletes who only have a guaranteed 12 games per year, the schools that want to play each other as much as possible, and what’s good for our fans.

“Very, very low on the totem pole is what’s best to get a team in the playoff.”


Scott points out that Stanford’s and Utah’s conference losses have come to teams in their own divisions, games they’d be playing no matter the model. The Cardinal’s first loss came on a two time-zone road trip to play a Power 5 foe, Northwestern, that’s wound up in the top 20.

The upside of that approach is the committee looks upon it favorably. Body clock jokes aside, Long and his colleagues were willing to overlook the Cardinal’s early loss. Utah moved back into the top 10 last week thanks in part to a nonconference win over Michigan, the back end of its own home-and-home.

The downside is, there’s three weeks of games left, and the Pac-12’s only remaining contest certain to have playoff implications will only be so because nonconference foe Notre Dame is in it. 

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to