Momentum to resurrect a Big 12 championship game in football gathered significant steam Wednesday when commissioner Bob Bowlsby said talks with College Football Playoff officials convinced him the league is “disadvantaged” in pursuit of a national championship without one.
Bowlsby made his comments at the conclusion of a two-day meeting with CFP officials that included Wednesday’s face-to-face session with Jeff Long, the CFP selection committee chairman.
“I think what we heard is that if we don’t go to a championship game, we’re at a disadvantage potentially,” Bowlsby said. “If we have somebody run the table and go 12-0, it might not make a difference. But all things being equal, 13 [games] is better than 12. And so, if we don’t make changes, we’re potentially going into the season with a short stick in our hand.”
As a 10-member league, the Big 12 currently is prohibited under NCAA rules from holding a conference championship league. That could change by the 2016 season amid strong indications that the NCAA is amenable to approving a waiver to allow leagues with fewer than 12 schools hold a championship game in football.
The debate about the merits playing a 12- or 13-game slate in pursuit of a playoff berth has raged since December, when Ohio State received the No. 4 seed in last year’s inaugural playoff bracket over TCU and Baylor, the Big 12 co-champions. At the time, Long cited the Buckeyes’ 59-0 victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten title game as a key factor separating the teams.
The triumph gave Ohio State a 12-1 record. Baylor and TCU, each with 11-1 records, were left out of the four-team playoff and finished a respective fifth and sixth in the final rankings. Ohio State went on to win the national championship, elevating frustrations among fans of Big 12 teams left out of the playoff bracket.
Bowlsby said he made a point in Wednesday’s talks to seek clarification from Long about the significance of the extra game in committee deliberations. He cited it as a factor that conference commissioners “did not hear about … until the last day of the season” when Long cited it as a tiebreaking tool that separated Ohio State, Baylor and TCU.
Bowlsby said Long told him in Wednesday’s meeting that “13 data points are better than 12” when separating closely matched teams for playoff purposes. That, in Bowlsby’s mind, answered a burning question about how league officials should proceed in deciding future football championships.
“Based on the information I heard [Wednesday], I think we are at a disadvantage not playing a championship game,” Bowlsby said. “I surmise that we will probably move in that direction, knowing what we now know.”
Long was not available for interviews after the meeting. Bill Hancock, CFP executive director, stressed that commissioners from other Power Five leagues that hold championship games had not insisted that the Big 12 must join them.
“No, I didn’t get that feeling,” Hancock said. “I think they all understand that every conference is autonomous. And there was absolutely no movement to require a conference championship game.”
Bowlsby left with a different vibe and plans to deliver his pro-title game message to league football coaches and athletic directors during a May 5-6 meeting in Phoenix. But there is no way for the Big 12 to add a championship game this season, meaning the 2015 league champion will be judged on a 12-game body of work in its playoff quest.
Bowlsby said discussions in Phoenix will center on establishing tiebreakers to present one team to CFP officials in the event of a two-team tie for the title (head-to-head result would prevail) as well as alternatives to break a three-team deadlock. Because both TCU and Baylor project as 2015 national title contenders, the league’s tiebreaker procedure approved in May could have playoff implications again this season.
In Wednesday’s discussions about recapturing a Big 12 championship game for the 2016 season, Bowlsby focused on the possibility of holding the contest if the NCAA waiver is approved for a 10-team league. Expanding league membership to 12 teams would allow the contest to happen without a waiver but Bowlsby did not address that possibility Wednesday. In December, league officials expressed no desire to expand.
Resurrecting the Big 12 championship game to enhance a playoff opportunity would be ironic for a league that saw three teams knocked out of national title consideration by losses during seasons when the Big 12 had two divisions (Missouri, 2007; Kansas State, 1998; Nebraska, 1996). Hancock reflected on that history Wednesday.
“Everyone in that room, including Bob, understands the risks and rewards of a conference championship game,” Hancock said.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760