It seems destined to be remembered as the “Baylor rule.”
But the bottom line to Tuesday’s edict from the Big 12 office, mandating that league members play at least one nonconference football game against an opponent from another Power 5 league or Notre Dame, will impact far more than the Bears’ soft September schedules.
Two days after Oklahoma (11-1) slipped to No. 4 in Sunday’s final College Football Playoff rankings, securing the last available spot in this year’s playoff field for the Big 12 champion, commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced the future scheduling requirement that also includes a limit of no more than one FCS opponent per year on future schedules.
The new scheduling requirement does not impact existing non-conference game contracts, which means no immediate action is required for Big 12 members to upgrade their 2016 nonconference schedules. But the rule will impact negotiations going forward, which Bowlsby considers essential in improving the Big 12’s opportunity to consistently land playoff berths during the CFP era. The CFP contract calls for four-team playoff fields for the next 10 seasons.
From a Baylor standpoint, it means that nonconference vacancies on Baylor schedules from 2019-2022 must now be filled by a Power 5 opponent in each of those seasons.
“Schedule strength is a key component in CFP selection committee deliberations,” Bowlsby said in a prepared statement. “This move will strengthen the rèsumès for all Big 12 teams. Coupled with the nine-game, full round-robin conference schedule our teams play, it will not only benefit the teams at the top of our standings each season, but will impact the overall strength of the conference.”
In attempting to secure playoff spots, the merits of Big 12 teams are judged against schools from the other Power 5 leagues (ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten), as well as Notre Dame and teams from other FBS leagues. In the first two seasons of the CFP era, the Big 12 has seen its champion or co-champions omitted from the four-team playoff bracket (TCU and Baylor, 2014) or relegated to the lowest available seed (Oklahoma, 2015).
In both seasons, the Big 12’s highest-ranked team dropped at least one spot in the final rankings on Selection Sunday while being passed by the winner of the Big Ten championship game both times. In both seasons, CFP selection committee chairman Jeff Long has identified a weak nonconference schedule as a reason committee members questioned the merits of Baylor (2014, 2015), TCU (2015), North Carolina (2015) and other schools while explaining how teams landed in the weekly rankings.
Asked Sunday about the importance of playoff candidates playing strong nonconference schedules, Long said: “You need to play nonconference games that test your team against out-of-conference opponents, and I do think that’s demonstrated throughout our ranking. While we’re not trying to send messages, I think you can look at our rankings and get messages. I think conferences and (athletic directors) are looking at the rankings and determining that.”
During Sunday’s remarks, Long took time to praise Oklahoma for posting a “very impressive win at Tennessee in front of over 100,000 people” as one of its nonconference triumphs. Among the top four teams in the final Big 12 standings, OU was the only school that did not have an FCS opponent on its 2015 slate.
Baylor (Lamar), TCU (Stephen F. Austin) and Oklahoma State (Central Arkansas) had one each. In addition, the 2015 nonconference schedules played by Baylor (SMU, Lamar, Rice) and Oklahoma State (Central Michigan, Central Arkansas, UTSA) would not meet the criteria imposed Tuesday by Bowlsby because none of the opponents are members of a Power 5 league. Kansas State (South Dakota, UTSA, Louisiana Tech) was the third league member that did not face a Power 5 oppoent in nonconference play this season.
League administrators discussed the need to upgrade future football schedules at last year’s spring meetings but took no tangible steps in that direction. At the time, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said such a measure would be useful because “we’re all in this together” and all Big 12 teams wind up being painted with a similar brush in CFP deliberations.
That step arrived Tuesday. But it will have no impact on future Baylor schedules until 2019, at the earliest. The 2016 schedules are set for Big 12 teams and the Bears play Duke, an ACC opponent, in 2017 and 2018.
Baylor has one nonconference vacancy in each season from 2019-2022 that now must be filled by an opponent from a Power 5 league. Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw has stressed on multiple occasions in the past year that he is actively seeking to upgrade future schedules with CFP implications in mind.
At this juncture, nonconference opponents on future Baylor schedules include Liberty (2017), UTSA (2017-19), Abilene Christian (2018), Rice (2019-2020), Incarnate Word (2020), Texas State (2021-2022) and Louisiana Tech (2021-22). None of them are from Power 5 leagues.
The Baylor exceptions include future dates against Duke (2017-2018) and Utah (2023-2024), a pair of teams from Power 5 leagues.