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Larry Scott Plays Checkers With Undefeated Pac-12 Teams While Other Conferences Play Chess for ESPN Money

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The first thing you need to know about this college football season is why it’s being played and for whom. 

The answer to both: ESPN. 

In some cases, the games are played not in front of fans, but only TV cameras. How’s that for symbolism? It’s about ESPN money, ESPN contracts, ESPN content.

Some people clearly get that, while others are Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. This crazy season might be coming to an even crazier finish. The goal now for any conference is to get one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff — maybe two spots — and get ESPN’s money. 

It takes a little craft and cunning, skill and strategy. Most Power Five commissioners are making their moves. But while they’re playing chess, Scott is playing checkers.

I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The focus this week is on whether Ohio State will play its game against Michigan. If not? The Buckeyes won’t have played enough games, under conference rules, to get into the Big Ten Championship Game. That could cost Ohio State a spot in the playoff.

That’s one theory, anyway. It’s a dumb theory, but it is a theory. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, the former Ohio State quarterback, said so last week, suggesting Michigan will show its hatred for Ohio State by pretending to fail enough COVID tests to cancel the game.

Relax, Kirk. There is no way to stick it to Ohio State, no way an undefeated Ohio State will be left out of the playoff. Why?

ESPN. The network wants the Buckeyes in the playoff. They drive huge TV ratings. 

But what about the rule requiring teams to play a certain number of games? Rules? Any “rules’’ in place now weren’t there 12 weeks ago and were written in pencil in the first place. Or in the case of the Pac-12, in crayon.

I’ll get back to that.

The ACC has already changed its rules. Seeing that it had a chance to get both Notre Dame and Clemson into the playoff, it simply wiped a game off both teams’ schedules to reduce any chance of an upset.

Look, this is a Wild West season. Games are added and subtracted at the last minute. If a rule is in the way of Ohio State playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, then the solution isn’t to wipe away Ohio State. The solution is to wipe away the rule.

So Michigan canceled its game last week against Maryland because of COVID results. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s weekly talk with the media was moved to some unspecified time later this week, depending on whether the game with Ohio State will be played. Ohio State fans are waiting, worrying.

Here’s what Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told reporters this week: “I would think that if something would happen to Ohio State and they’d have to cancel another game, then that’s something that we’ve got to revisit.’’

There is no “revisiting.’’ Barring a loss, Ohio State is already in the playoff. For the same reason, so is Notre Dame. The winner of the Alabama-Florida game will be in.

There are a few other things that could happen, but mainly, if Clemson loses to Notre Dame in the ACC title game, there would likely be one open slot in the playoff. And that’s where we come back to Larry Scott and the Pac-12.

Consider this: There are just five undefeated Power Five conference teams left in the country: Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC and Colorado. Three of those teams are in prime position for the playoff. The other two? They’re in the Pac-12. And no one is talking about USC or Colorado.

It’s Scott’s job to get people talking about them. ESPN would find USC especially appealing. This week, USC will play irrelevant UCLA, and Colorado will play Utah. Because USC and Colorado are in the same division in the Pac-12, they can’t play each other in the conference championship game under the rules.

Under the rules.

Hello? Larry? You have two undefeated, nationally-ranked teams playing irrelevant games, and you’re being left out of the discussion. Anything you can think of? Any move at all?

Make USC play Colorado this weekend.

The Pac-12 has decided not to mess with the schedule. It will stay irrelevant. And it keeps making statements that it set the rules and will follow the rules.

Sure, but the conference also had a rule against playing non-conference games this year. Then about three weeks ago, it changed the rule and Colorado played San Diego State at the last minute.

The Pac-12 has one marketable game to sell. One. One way to become relevant: USC vs. Colorado. 

The winner of that game would jump into the top 10 and then jump again if it wins the conference title game. An undefeated champ from what is supposedly a major conference? That would be hard for ESPN to pass up for its College Football Playoff, especially if it’s USC.

And for some reason, if the Pac-12 can’t pull that off, then at least change the rules and let them play each other in the conference championship game.

This stuff isn’t that hard. But Pac-12 football is always an afterthought at best.

Come on, Larry. You have one chance to matter. And when USC stands there on the field against Colorado on national TV, you can stand tall and proudly say it:

“King me.’’

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Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

6 Comments

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  1. Greg,
    Irrelevant Ucla? Pac 12 afterthought?
    Ucla is 3-2 with an upcoming rivalry game against USC. Ucla can easily be 5-0.
    You can make your points without taking child like insults directed at schools. Not everyone is Alabama.

    I’m sorry I wasted my time reading your irrelevant column.
    Eric

  2. As a lifelong fan of a now “irrelevant UCLA,” I might want to be able to dispute your analysis, but I am afraid you are correct right down the line. A you imply, they are just not playing the same game as the other conferences. Keeping Larry Scott around, as they surely will, proves that point.

    Go Bruins.

    • I think the Pac-12 initially loved the Larry Scott hire because he was miles away better than provincial Tom Hansen. However, Mr. Scott is now dead weight around the Pac-12’s aspirations to become a national player in college football. The conference needs to get rid of him and find someone who an elevate the schools to better tv deals, and improve brand awareness.

  3. I get where you are coming from, but I don’t think a game against 4-0 Colorado is would move the meter. I think the only way to capture people’s attention would be to try to throw together a last minute USC game this Saturday against Ohio State or Texas A&M.

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