The Big 12 may one day bring its conference championship back to the conference schedule, but any hope of reviving the game in 2016 appears to be fading quickly. A meeting of Big 12 athletic directors on Thursday in Irving, Texas yielded no movement toward implementing a conference championship for the upcoming college football season.
Bob Bowlsby, commissioner of the Big 12, confirmed ADs from the conference were presented with information regarding the impact a conference championship game has on sending a Big 12 champion to the College Football Playoff. The Big 12 was represented this past season by Oklahoma, an outright conference champion in regular season play, but the conference was left out of the four-team playoff field in the 2014 season despite co-champions Baylor and TCU having identical 11-1 records. Big Ten champion Ohio State wiggled past the Big 12 co-champs for the fourth and final spot in the inaugural playoff. No votes regarding the conference championship game were held by Big 12 ADs, which was expected to be the case.
The Big 12 ADs also discussed other topics that seem to follow the Big 12 wherever it goes; expansion and a Big 12 network. Like the championship game, no votes were held regarding expansion or a conference-branded sports network similar to networks operated by the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12. But they most certainly were discussed. Bowlsby suggested the discussions were “high-level discussions.”
On Friday the presidents and chancellors from the 10 Big 12 members will meet in Irving, during which time they will be expected to review these same topics and more.
The topic of expansion in the Big 12 has continued since the departures of Nebraska (Big Ten, Colorado (Pac-12), Texas A&M and Missouri (SEC) were followed by the additions of West Virginia and TCU. Stuck on 10 members, the Big 12 lost the ability to host a conference championship game under the NCAA rules regarding championship games (conferences must have 12 teams or more to hold a conference title game). The NCAA recently allowed conferences the ability to run a conference championship game without 12 members, but the once believed to be easy choice for the Big 12 has seemed to lose support and momentum from within, and now the conference appears to have a diving line on the subject. On the one hand, a conference championship game hypothetically gives the Big 12 champion one last good, quality matchup to make a final playoff push, which may have benefitted Baylor or TCU in 2014. On the other, Oklahoma just proved it is possible to make the playoff without a championship game. A Big 12 championship game would provide more potential revenue for the conference, which is a nice luxury to have, but it carries a risk of potentially knocking a playoff entrant out of the discussion with a loss on the final weekend. The Big 12 has seen its championship game ruin national title dreams before, so it knows the pros and cons of the debate.
The complications of a Big 12 network also open the door for a stalemate, as it would likely come only if Texas abandoned The Longhorn Network. The Longhorn Network has been a polarizing issue in the Big 12 since its launch, and that is not about to change. Texas has every right to continue to stand by the network if it chooses, which means the rest of the Big 12 is going to have to convince Texas a conference-branded network would be more beneficiaal and valuable to Texas than its own network. For Texas, the ideal situation would be to have both its Longhorn Network and get a cut of a Big 12 network pie. It sounds so simple in theory, but nothing in the Big 12 is ever going to be simple.
Why start now, right?