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Question facing Big 12 championship game not ‘if’ but ‘how?’

COMMENTARY

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Four-plus months since the Big 12 co-champions went uninvited/snubbed/rightfully omitted from the College Football Playoff, league commissioner Bob Bowlsby has us believe he just now deciphered the math that defined their absence: 13 games is more than 12.

“Based on information I heard (Wednesday), I think we’re at a disadvantage not playing a championship game,” said Bowlsby, who was entirely right about the disadvantage and entirely fudging the timeline.

For such an astute gentleman, Wednesday’s wrap-up of the CFP spring meetings in Irving, Texas was hardly a revelation. (What, you think Bowlsby experienced an “ah-ha” moment during Jeff Long’s PowerPoint?)

Bowlsby knew throughout last season that the favorites from the competing Power Five conferences would garner a year-end bump by winning their league title games. Actually, Bowlsby reckoned this well before last year, when he requested the NCAA relax its 12-team, two-division mandate for staging a championship game.

That rule appears on a path to deregulation by 2016. Though Bowlsby did not commit to a relaunch of the Big 12 championship game—believed to be a $20 million generator for other leagues—he explained rather tellingly: “I surmise that we will probably move in that direction.”

There was a cautious promise to “weigh all the pros and cons,” with the obvious con being the inherent risk a championship game presents to a team already occupying one of the top four spots. In that respect, the Big 12 could resurrect an in-house memorial to its fallen contenders:

— No. 3 Nebraska beaten by Texas in 1996 (cost Huskers chance to play Florida State for the title)
— No. 2 K-State trumped by Texas A&M in ’98 (Previously unbeaten Wildcats missed out on BCS Fiesta Bowl)
— No. 3 Texas upset by Colorado in 2001 (knocked Longhorns out of the BCS Rose Bowl)
— No. 1 Missouri beaten by Oklahoma in ’07 (cost Tigers a trip to the BCS Sugar Bowl)

Fearing upsets, however, is no way to run a college football conference. And those four teams weren’t so much victimized by having to play a conference championship game as they were exposed in losing them. (That 1998 K-State team beat Indiana State, Northern Illinois and Northeast Louisiana in nonconference for crying out loud—a schedule no team outside of Waco would deem challenging.)

Sure, the conference championships giveth and they taketh away: Ohio State’s past two years in the Big Ten finale support arguments for both sides. Yet there’s no debating 13 games is better than 12 in the eyes of the CFP committee, particularly when that 13th game comes against a quality opponent on a neutral field.

With a Big 12 championship reboot inevitable, the already-brewing next order of business involves Bowlsby and the ADs deciding how to stage it. Do they keep the nine-game regular-season round-robin that guarantees a rematch in the title game? Do they return to an eight-game league schedule that allows for another nonconference game against a Power 5 school? Do they add BYU and a 12th school, making their logo accurate again, but also lessening the per-school payout? Or does the Big 12 add only BYU, keeping payout shares the same and being content with 11 members under the expected NCAA deregulation?

All could be viable ideas, and with apologies to the post-summit chatter from Irving, none of them were born yesterday.





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