Gil LeBreton

Big 12 needs a 13th game, but be careful

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy scrambles for yards in the fourth quarter of Big 12 Football Championship action between the University of Texas and the University of Nebraska at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington in 2009.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy scrambles for yards in the fourth quarter of Big 12 Football Championship action between the University of Texas and the University of Nebraska at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington in 2009. The Dallas Morning News

Though much lip service was paid over the weekend to conference championship games, astute followers — and bettors — of college football see the annual trophy clashes for what they are:

Network TV programming, with a possible trap door for one unlucky team at the other end.

Remember Colt McCoy and Texas’ undefeated 2009 team? It was on its way down the conference title game disposal chute when a referee’s quick whistle saved the Longhorns against three-loss Nebraska.

A two-loss Oklahoma team whipped Missouri in the Big 12 title game in 2007, and the Tigers — previously No. 1 in the nation — didn’t even make a BCS bowl.

Conference championship games are accidents waiting to happen.

As the debate heats up, therefore, in the wake of the College Football Playoff committee’s snub of TCU and Baylor, Big 12 coaches and athletic directors would be wise to watch where they lurch. Someone might get hurt.

Expansion? Sure, why not?

But expanding by two teams just to append one December weekend to the Big 12 agenda seems like adding a baby just to get the bath water.

Four years, four member defections and one TV debut of Longhorn Network later, the Big 12 remains a stubborn 10.

Basic arithmetic: 10 teams can split a TV rights pie more happily than 12. That’s what former UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds once convinced fellow conference members. It stopped them, at least, from focusing on his school’s new network.

That anecdote came up last weekend as the CFP people tried to lump the blame on someone, anyone, for excluding the Bears and Horned Frogs.

Quit harping on the “One True Champion” thing. It was a marketing slogan, not something carved on a stone tablet.

“One True Champion” was just another way of the Big 12 saying: “We’re staying at 10 teams and we’re proud of it.” And they were, every time they went to the campus mailbox to pick up their TV rights check, until all hell broke loose in Waco.

In the end, the problem was TCU and Baylor, not the omission of a Big 12 title game. The argument that Ohio State would have never jumped a similarly ranked Texas or Oklahoma is regrettable, but likely true.

TCU’s Gary Patterson was on the right path Sunday afternoon when he suggested that the Frogs had to raise their national profile — by being consistent contenders in the Big 12 — in order to get “the benefit of the doubt.”

The math, however, may require the league to perform a few tricks.

As one-sided and/or superfluous as those conference title games can be, there is no reason for a highly-ranked Power 5 team to sit idle on the first weekend in December if the CFP committee is going to hold that against it.

Nine league games mean that Big 12 teams can only play three nonconference opponents. Everyone is aware of the scrutiny that Baylor’s out-of-conference schedule faced.

The league needs a 13th game for its CFP contenders. The committee shamelessly threw that back into the Big 12’s face Sunday, because — well — it could.

The NCAA, it’s been righteously pointed out, does not allow conferences with less than 12 teams to stage a postseason championship game. But if the CFP committee is going to hold the lack of an extra game against a conference, as it said it did, it’s hard to imagine the NCAA standing in the way of a league that wants to have one.

East versus West. North versus South. Shirts against Skins.

It doesn’t matter. Title game matchups seem to go pffft more often than not.

Anybody remember Texas 70, Colorado 3?

Why don’t leagues just match their two best teams, as determined by — of course — the latest CFP rankings. Division winners who don’t get in the title game can be rewarded with a nice trophy.

If the two best teams in the Power 5 conferences all played on one final December Saturday, think of the stakes. The electricity.

Think of the excuses the CFP committee would suddenly be unable to use.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton