A new-look Big 12 will have some throwback wrinkles for the 2017 football season, starting with the resurrection of a conference championship game aimed at boosting the league’s opportunity to place a team in the College Football Playoff on an annual basis.
By signing off on becoming the home of One True Rematch, assuming the league keeps its round-robin football schedule favored by conference administrators and network TV partners, the Big 12 can count on adding roughly $3 million per school in annual revenues. Paid consultants also cite a 14 percent boost in the league’s opportunity to place a team in the CFP playoff bracket each season by adding the “13th data point” they have been missing in relation to other Power Five conferences.
Armed with such evidence, league presidents followed the money and unanimously voted to add a football championship game despite the fact it probably is unnecessary in deciding the Big 12’s best team because all schools will meet on a head-to-head basis during the regular season.
What IS needed, from this point forward, is a way to implement the game and make a guaranteed rematch of a regular-season contest as palatable as possible to fans, TV viewers and the CFP selection committee for each of the eight seasons the contest will unfold under existing contracts (2017 through 2024). Step One, from all indications, will be creation of two five-team divisions for the 2017 season, a move Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowsby described as having a “high likelihood” of unfolding.
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How best to achieve that, and other league enhancements? Here is our five-step solution to bring the Big 12 back to prominence with a bang in 2017:
Step One: Put Texas and Oklahoma in opposite divisions, thereby offering the possibility of a postseason rematch between divisional winners that would trigger a ratings bonanza for TV partners.
Step Two: Lean heavily on traditional rivalries in creating the divisions. Put the five former Big Eight members in one division (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State) and have West Virginia join the four former Southwest Conference members from Texas in the other division (TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor).
Step Three: Play the crossover games between schools from different divisions in September and October, thereby focusing on divisional play and divisional titles during the final six weeks of the regular-season slate. That way, there would be significant separation between the time the respective division winners met during the regular season and when they would reconvene on Championship Saturday, the first weekend in December.
Step Four: Anchor the game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. It’s the best stadium in the Big 12’s geographic region and it is clear that anchoring the game in the same venue is good for business in other leagues. The SEC has followed that model for years by deciding their titles in Atlanta.
Step Five: Embrace expansion discussions. That does not mean rubber-stamping memberships for two expansion candidates simply to recapture the league’s initial 12-team configuration. But it DOES involve sounding out prospects that might bolster the league if/when another round of widespread conference realignment unfolds once existing TV contracts expire after the 2024-25 school year.