Big 12 Championship, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX. Texas' Colt McCoy celebrates Texas' Big 12 championship and berth into the national title game against Alabama by congratulating kicker Hunter Lawrence after Lawrence connected on the game-winning field goal with no time left to defeat Nebraska, 13-12. 12/5/09 Ralph Barrera/AMERICAN-STATESMAN;

Football

Big 12 expansion: Adding a conference title game is about more than the money

Posted May 27th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Adding a conference title game would net the Big 12 up to $30 million per year, which would be spread to all schools.
  • In three years, a team ranked first or second nationally lost in the Big 12 title game and missed out on playing for the national title.
  • If the Big 12 decides to expand, then discussion about adding a title game becomes moot because it would almost surely happen anyway.

When wondering if the Big 12 will decide to return to the ways it once conducted business and play a football championship game, it would be wise to follow the money.

With up to $30 million to be gained from TV revenue and spread to its member schools, it seems like a no-brainer for the Big 12 to join the four other Power 5 conferences and match up its top two teams for the league title.

So why hasn’t it been approved already?

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Well, because it’s not solely about the money or perhaps even primarily about the money. Instead, discussion from league officials about a title game ignores the allure of a financial windfall and orbits around the College Football Playoff, and specifically whether adding a championship game would help or hurt the conference’s odds of earning a berth to the postseason semifinals.

Yet there’s a problem, and it’s one that representatives of the league’s 10 schools must sort through next week in Irving when deciding which path to choose. Through two seasons, the CFP selection committee has provided contrasting evidence on the weight it places on conference title games.

IMPACT ON MAKING THE CFP

Proponents of the Big 12 needing to change point to 2014 when TCU and Baylor, with identical 11-1 records at the end of the regular season, sort of canceled each other and cost the conference a spot in the inaugural CFP. (A quick refresher: Baylor beat TCU 61-58, but otherwise had an unflattering regular season with a shaky loss at West Virginia and a non-conference slate filled with creampuffs SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo.)

Sooner defenders Stacy McGee (92) and Travis Lewis knock the helmet off of Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez in the third quarter at the Oklahoma University Sooners vs. the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers Big XII Championship football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on Saturday December 4, 2010. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)
Sooner defenders Stacy McGee (92) and Travis Lewis knock the helmet off of Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez in the third quarter at the Oklahoma University Sooners vs. the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers Big XII Championship football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on Saturday December 4, 2010. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

Immediately following the snub, sirens rang out for the conference to add a title game, something its advocates assumed that had it been in place would’ve pushed the winner of a Baylor-TCU title-game rematch into the four-team playoff field.

Maybe, maybe not. No matter how that game would’ve turned out, the winner would not have gotten a berth over top-ranked Alabama or second-ranked Oregon. And that’s probably also true for third-ranked Florida State, the undefeated defending national champion. So the committee was down to three choices — Baylor and TCU from the Big 12, and Big Ten champion Ohio State, which lambasted Wisconsin 59-0 in its title game. Of course, the committee ended up looking pretty smart when the Buckeyes knocked off Alabama in the semifinals and then Oregon for the CFP title.

So that’s the argument in favor of adding a championship game. The argument against it came in the most recent season when the Big 12 landed a CFP berth, albeit unofficially, before any other conference when Oklahoma capped an 11-1 regular season with a win over Oklahoma State.

The next week, while the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Pac-12 all were playing title games to settle on their champions, Oklahoma was sitting at home, assured of an invitation to the playoff.

Sounds kind of nice, huh?

POTENTIAL TITLE GAME PRATFALLS

And hypothetically, let’s say there had been a Big 12 title game in 2015. Given the way the standings shook out, it would’ve been a rematch between Oklahoma and the same Oklahoma State team that the Sooners smoked by 35 points the week before.

Three Nebraska fans cheer during the opening minutes at the Oklahoma University Sooners vs. the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers Big XII Championship football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on Saturday December 4, 2010. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)
Three Nebraska fans cheer during the opening minutes at the Oklahoma University Sooners vs. the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers Big XII Championship football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on Saturday December 4, 2010. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

Taking that hypothetical further, let’s say Oklahoma State came out mad and avenged the loss. In that scenario, the CFP committee would’ve been left with two undesirable choices from the Big 12 — the Cowboys, who lost their last two regular-season games after starting off 10-0, or the Sooners, who didn’t even win their conference.

For 15 years, the Big 12 played a championship game, and in three of them a team ranked No. 1 or No. 2 suffered a loss and was removed from consideration for the national title — Texas A&M’s shocker over second-ranked Kansas State in 1998 and Kansas State’s 35-7 upset of No. 1 Oklahoma in 2003. The conference killed its championship game after the 2010 season, when the departures of Nebraska and Colorado dipped the Big 12 to 10 schools. Tenth-ranked Oklahoma beat 13th-ranked Nebraska in that final title game, 23-20.

At the time, the NCAA required that a conference have at least 12 members in order to hold a title game. But that rule was reversed this past January by a 7-2 conference vote. It gave the Big 12 the option of playing a championship game without expansion.

WHAT WOULD TEXAS WANT?

According to a study commissioned by the Big 12, the addition of a championship game would increase the league’s odds of appearing in the CFP by four to five percent. Should the Big 12 decide to play a title game, there would be no shortage of venues willing to host it. In the past, the game was played at the Trans World Dome in St. Louis (1996 and 1998), the Alamodome (1997, 1999 and 2007), Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008), Texas Stadium (2001), Reliant Stadium (2002 and 2005) and Cowboys Stadium (2009 and 2010).

It’s difficult to say which side Texas is on. In October, athletic director Mike Perrin spoke at the Texas Tribune Festival at UT and said he’s intrigued by the thought of a championship rematch from a regular season meeting, but noted that there are drawbacks. For his part, Longhorns football coach Charlie Strong said in April, “I like the way the system is set up right now.” His view is shared by at least two other Big 12 coaches, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and TCU’s Gary Patterson.

As complicated as this decision may appear to be, it becomes quite simple if expansion is approved. Should that occur, and by all appearances it will be turned down or at least tabled, the league would likely split into two divisions again and a championship game would follow.

BIG 12 TITLE GAMES

There were 15 Big 12 championship games played, from the first year of the conference in 1996 — Texas’ infamous “Roll Left” play that helped upset Nebraska — till 2010, the last year that Nebraska and Colorado were conference members. A look at those games’ results and where they were played:

1996: Texas 37, (3) Nebraska 27 — Trans World Dome, St. Louis

1997: (2) Nebraska 54, (14) Texas A&M 15 — Alamodome, San Antonio

1998: (10) Texas A&M 36, (2) Kansas State 33 — Trans World Dome, St. Louis

1999: (2) Nebraska 22, (12) Texas 6 — Alamodome, San Antonio

2000: (1) Oklahoma 27, (8) Kansas State 24 — Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City

2001: (9) Colorado 39, (3) Texas 37 — Texas Stadium, Irving

2002: (8) Oklahoma 29, (12) Colorado 7 — Reliant Stadium, Houston

2003: (13) Kansas State 35, (1) Oklahoma 7 — Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City

2004: (2) Oklahoma 42, Colorado 3 — Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City

2005: (2) Texas 70, Colorado 3 — Reliant Stadium, Houston

2006: (8) Oklahoma 21, (19) Nebraska 7 — Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City

2007: (9) Oklahoma 38, (1) Missouri 17 — Alamodome, San Antonio

2008: (4) Oklahoma 62, (19) Missouri 21 — Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City

2009: (3) Texas 13, (21) Nebraska 12 — Cowboys Stadium, Arlington

2010: (10) Oklahoma 23, (13) Nebraska 20 — Cowboys Stadium, Arlington

RELATED COVERAGE: Examining the Big 12’s options — Expansion? Stand pat?

RELATED COVERAGE: Big 12 expansion primer — everything you need to know

RELATED COVERAGE: How the Longhorn Network, TV rights are affecting Big 12 expansion

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