Changes could be coming to the conference championship game structure, possibly as soon as the 2016 season. Maybe.
The Big 12 and ACC have worked together to write legislation deregulated conference championship games, allowing each league the freedom to stage a 13th game to crown its champion as it sees fit. And on Tuesday, CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd reported the legislation is expected to receive approval.
The conference championship game format has been entirely static ever since then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer invented it in the early 1990’s. Right? Wrong. Entirely wrong. As Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples explained last May, the history of the conference championship game and the reasoning behind the rule is more arbitrary than you can possibly imagine. The Cliff’s Notes version: the 14-team Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference wanted to establish a stand-alone championship game and wrote legislation requiring leagues to have at least 14 teams split into two divisions, and each team must play a round-robin schedule within its division. The 12-team Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association asked the PSAC to drop the requirement to 12 teams, so it did. The rule passed without issue in January 1987 and remained mostly out of view until the SEC brought the conference championship game to Division I-A in 1992 and has remained exactly the same ever since.
When considering that the conferences are essentially governing themselves in this matter and the make-it-up-as-we-go history of NCAA bylaw18.104.22.168(c), the new piece of legislation has always seemed like more of a sure-thing than an open Tyus Jones jumper.
What those schools plan to do with their new-found freedom, however, remains up in the air. The Big 12 has unofficially maintained that it has no interest in staging a title game – it would just like to have the right to do so. Baylor athletics director Ian McCaw told FootballScoop as much last month. “I don’t think it’s something we’re looking at doing in football right now,” he said. “I think we feel really comfortable with the full round-robin we play determining who the champion is with the head-to-head tiebreaker. I don’t think that’s something that has much interest at this point.”
The ACC, with its 14-team, eight-game structure, has left its intentions a mystery.
“I think there’s some belief that ACC would play three divisions, have two highest ranked play in postseason,” Big 12 commissioner and NCAA Football Oversight Committee chairman Bob Bowlsby told CBS.
The thought of blowing up the divisional-structure is an incredibly enticing one. Would certain SEC schools (Ole Miss? Arkansas?) push for three divisions to get out of annual games against Alabama and Auburn? Would the ACC scrap divisions entirely? Virginia Tech beat writer Andy Bitter offered such a plan nearly two years ago, where each team would play two permanent rivals and seven rotating opponents with the top two teams squaring off for the league championship.
Everyone has their own plan. In fact, your humble columnist forwarded his own idea for a Big 12 title game last month. And now, possibly as soon as next season, those ideas could spring to life.
“Really, nobody cares how you determine your champion,” Bowlsby told CBS. “It should be a conference-level decision.”