In one of the least shocking news items of the spring, Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News reported Sunday that Big 12 athletics directors will consider alternate tiebreaker procedures at the Big 12 tournament later this week. After the league was left with a three egg omelet on its face in the wake of Baylor and TCU getting left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff this was all but guaranteed.
Clunky “One True Champion” slogan notwithstanding, the conference had the right idea in not staging a championship game. More than any of its competitors, the Big 12 saw its champion knocked out of a national championship opportunity on a handful of occasions and never once saw a team play its way into a title game with a big conference championship performance, as Ohio State did in its 59-0 flattening of Wisconsin.
The lack of a championship game also helps the Big 12 increase its odds of getting not one but two teams in the Playoff. The Big 12 would’ve gotten Baylor had Florida State not executed its season-long tightrope walk, and it would’ve gotten two teams in had LSU or Auburn hold on to second-half leads each team built over Alabama.
“We probably don’t want to be different in more than one way than the other conferences.” Bowlsby told the Morning News. “We need to have some other way to determine a champion.”
No need to fear, Mr. Bowlsby. We have an idea.
Let’s pretend the 2015 season plays out exactly like 2009, when third-ranked Texas finished the regular season a full two games ahead of the rest of the conference. In this scenario, Texas should be declared the Big 12’s One True Champion at the conclusion of the regular season, and the Longhorns’ next official team function should be a watch party to see which semifinal the committee placed them in. No need to push your conference’s golden goose through the field of barbed wire that a championship game would be.
Now let’s pretend 2015 plays out exactly like 2014. Baylor and TCU ended up tied in the standings, and in effect cancelled out the other’s candidacy for the final seat at the table. Instead of handing out two trophies and hoping for the best, the Big 12 would have been better off pitting them in the rematch, giving the conference its One True Champion – and, most importantly, a win over a Top 6 team that certainly would have pushed the winner past Ohio State and possibly Florida State as well.
In short, if a team wins an outright conference title, it should receive its trophy and have that be that. But in the event of a tie – and only in the event of a tie – the Big 12 should stage a rematch.
Now, how would this work practically? The conference would have to schedule so that all 10 teams end their regular seasons on Thanksgiving weekend to leave room for a potential 13th game. (And the biggest drawback of this plan is that it robs all 10 teams of a second bye in a season like this with 14 Saturdays between Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekends.)
Those are the downsides, and there are definite hurdles to clear.
The Big 12 couldn’t shop its title game to networks and stadiums on an either/or basis (and Andy Staples reported in December it was unclear if there was a market among TV networks for a Big 12 championship anyway), so the title game would have to be played on campus and within the existing television contract – meaning the league would stage an extra game for free.
But let’s jump back to the real world for a bit. You think ESPN wouldn’t find time in its schedule for a Baylor-TCU rematch on championship weekend? And let’s ask Art Briles if he’d rather rather keep his scoreboard, his tiebreaker status and the Cotton Bowl berth that comes with it or play a winner-takes-the-Sugar-Bowl-berth-away-from-Ohio-State rematch with TCU.
The Big 12 Championship Only If Necessary proposal also increases the conference’s chances of placing more than one team in the Playoff tremendously when compared with an annual championship. Pretend Baylor had beaten West Virginia back in October and finished undefeated, and TCU’s lone loss came on the road in a back-and-forth game against an undefeated Bears squad. In this case (or, to be fair, under non-championship the current structure) the Big 12 would have a fantastic shot at getting two teams in, and would all but guarantee it if another contender slips up in its own championship game. But a Big 12 championship would pit those two against each other, locking up a spot for the winner while ensuring the loser gets left out.
There is a temptation to add certain stipulations to prevent, say, a third-ranked 11-1 (8-1 Big 12) Oklahoma from a rematch against a 15th-ranked 9-3 (8-1 Big 12) Texas, but such a rule would only encourage Baylor-esque non-conference scheduling, which should be avoided at all costs.
Again, it’s an idea well outside the box and would need some convincing both internally and externally, but if Bowlsby is serious about securing his conference the best possible chance of Playoff representation, this is it.