Data say Big 12’s playoff hopes rise by holding football title game

Consultants continue to analyze data for Big 12 officials regarding key issues pertaining to the future of the conference.

But the early returns, Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday, suggest the league would benefit in its College Football Playoff pursuits by holding a conference championship game in football.

“We’ve gotten some indication that playing a championship game probably gives us a slightly better chance of getting a team in the playoff,” Bowlsby said at the end of a meeting between conference commissioners and CFP officials at the Four Seasons Resort.

“But it comes with some downside, too. The enthusiasm for a regular-season rematch is certainly lower than it would be for another kind of contest. Just because we get some indication that there’s a slightly better chance of getting in if you have a championship game doesn’t mean we’re going to do it.”

The 10-member league, which mandates that football teams play all nine conference rivals during the regular season, is the only Power 5 conference without a league championship game in football. The possibility of adding such a contest, along with the idea of conference expansion, will be discussed by league presidents at the Big 12 spring meetings in June.

In the first two years of the CFP, the Big 12 champion has been passed in the final set of playoff rankings by the winner of the Big Ten championship game.

In 2014, the late movement by Ohio State prevented either of the Big 12 co-champions, TCU and Baylor, from earning a playoff berth. Last season, Oklahoma made the playoff but only as the No. 4 seed. Michigan State, the No. 3 seed, passed the Sooners in the final set of rankings.

Asked about the value of a championship game to selection committee members, CFP executive director Bill Hancock said: “Winning another game against a quality opponent is helpful. Not just playing the game, but winning the game. I can’t emphasize this enough.”

Another point of emphasis to commissioners from other Power 5 leagues is the idea that all playoff contenders should travel the same path.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott called it a “natural evolution” of the playoff process, suggesting the end goal should be nine league games, plus a conference title game, for champions from each Power 5 league. At present, the Big 12 is the lone outlier in regard to staging a championship game.

“After a period of time, if it’s not happening, it might come up. We might bring it up as a formal proposal,” Scott said of possible legislation. “Just from a fairness perspective, when there’s so much at stake and it is subjective by its nature, as consistent an approach as possible, we feel, would be the most fair.”

Rankings dates

CFP officials will release six sets of rankings for the 2016 season. The first five will be announced during Tuesday night ESPN telecasts (Nov. 1, Nov. 8, Nov. 15, Nov. 22, Nov. 29) with the final set released on Sunday, Dec. 4 to set the four-team playoff field.

Future flexibility

Hancock made it clear that flexibility exists for the dates of future semifinal games during the 10-year duration of the CFP’s contract with ESPN. Ratings for last year’s contests, played on New Year’s Eve, dropped by 36 percent over the 2014 ratings when the semifinals were staged on Jan. 1.

“We’re paying attention. The semifinals ratings were down considerably,” Hancock said. “We all know we’re dealing with a wildly successful product and our goal is to make the games available to the most people we can. If New Year’s Eve is a part of that, then that’s good. If New Year’s Eve is not a part of that in the future, then that will also be good.”

Future sites

Hancock said bids from cities seeking to host future CFP title games will be accepted in 2017, with a decision on the next wave of contests expected in 2018. Although he did not rule out returning the contest to a prior location, he said the prevailing thought is that “we want to move the game around.”

The first six games have been awarded to cities in six different states. AT&T Stadium in Arlington hosted the first CFP title game to crown the 2014 champion on Jan. 12, 2015.

Jimmy Burch: 817-390-7760, @Jimmy_Burch