Whether it was the amount of teams in the league, getting left out of the playoff, a championship game, the nine-game schedule or expansion, the Big 12’s future has been an ongoing debate since the last round of conference realignment.
But on Tuesday, the league took a step in the right direction by deciding not to add a conference championship game.
At last week’s playoff committee meeting, executive director Bill Hancock mentioned the 13th game and how it helped Ohio State reach the four-team playoff in 2014. And following last week’s meetings, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby certainly sounded like someone who was ready to implement a 13th game to help his league match the other Power 5 conferences.
But let’s take a step back and revisit the final week of the season. How often will a team with a No. 3 quarterback destroy a Power 5 team in the conference championship game by 59 points? It’s pretty rare. Florida State won by only two points in the ACC Championship over Georgia Tech. If the Seminoles lost to the Yellow Jackets, Baylor would have been the No. 4 team in the playoff.
The Big 12 was just a couple of points or breaks away from getting one team in the playoff last year. So what’s the rush to change? There should be zero.
While the Big 12 is the only Power 5 league without a conference title game, adding one doesn’t necessarily help this league in the playoff mix. In fact, a 13th game on an annual basis could hurt the Big 12 champion more than it helps.
Right now, the Big 12 has a good setup. The round-robin schedule allows every team to play one another and an additional conference championship game would only add the potential for a loss for the league’s No. 1 team.
One look through the history of the Big 12 Championship should give the athletic directors enough of a reason to not add a conference championship game. In 1996, No. 3 Nebraska lost to an unranked Texas team. No. 3 Kansas State was upset by Texas A&M in 1998, No. 3 Texas lost to No. 9 Colorado in 2001, and the most memorable result was No. 1 Oklahoma losing to No. 15 Kansas State 35-7 in 2003.
College football is a cyclical sport. Conferences are up in some years, down in others. One season of data on the college football playoff isn’t enough to make enough long-term decisions about a league. If the Big 12 gets left out of the playoff in seven out of the next eight years because it doesn’t have a conference championship game – then it’s time to revisit the issue.
The Big 12 could help itself a little by implementing a non-conference rule forcing every team to play a Power 5 opponent outside of league games. That’s an easy way to bolster the strength of schedule metric. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt the overall conference strength if Oklahoma and Texas were back among the nation’s elite once again.
Could a Big 12 Championship matchup help the conference? Sure. But it’s a 50-50 shot. The champion isn’t guaranteed to win the game, and there’s as much potential for this game to hurt the No. 1 team.
Until there’s clear proof that the Big 12’s playoff hopes are hindered on a yearly basis by not having a conference title game, not adding a 13th contest or expanding is the way go.
This doesn’t happened too often, but in this case, the Big 12 got it right by just staying the course.