The Big 12 goes against the grain. Other conferences expanded and added championship games, the Big 12 shrunk and squeezed its football title game out of existence.
The Big 12 believed last year it had two champions worthy of the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinals. The selection committee thought otherwise and granted spots to the champions of the four other conferences.
(This story is part of The Kansas City Star’s Football 2015 special section that publishes Sunday, Aug. 30. Pick one up and check out more here.)
Agendas in other major conferences filter through the commissioner’s office. In the Big 12, the Oklahoma president, the Baylor football coach, anybody who doesn’t like the wind’s direction that day, openly expresses that displeasure.
There is one area in which the Big 12 finds itself in a minority position but is indisputably correct. Because the 10 teams all play each other, the league stands alone in producing the most qualified champion among power conferences.
Sure, the Big 12 tripped over itself with its “One True Champion,” maxim, scrapped after commissioner Bob Bowlsby made trophy presentations to TCU and Baylor on the same day last year.
But the Big 12 argument remains a strong one. Its teams avoid no one in the conference. Nobody talks about TCU or Baylor being a league favorite based on opponents they dodge.
The Big Ten, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Pac-12 conferences play avoidance games, and it raises a bigger issue as college football continues its transition into a playoff era.
College football needs more uniformity in scheduling.
In what other sport do members play various amounts of games before its postseason?
A dozen games in the Big 12, and 13 in the other conferences that hold a championship game. When it comes to conference play, some play eight games, others nine. In nonconference scheduling, some challenge themselves and others challenge credibility. Fifty of the 64 teams in a power conference play at least one team from the Division I championship subdivision this season.
Every year, a coach or coaches call out this imbalance. Two years ago, Stanford’s David Shaw took aim at the SEC for playing fewer conference games than the Pac-12.
This summer, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel was the first to give Notre Dame a finger wag. “Give Notre Dame a year to join a league,” Pinkel said during an ESPN publicity tour. “They don’t have independents in the NFL.” Some ACC coaches later echoed the sentiment.
Perhaps this is all just preseason, soon-to-be forgotten-once-the-season-begins bluster.
But here’s the thing. College football now has a seeded bracket, supposedly accessible to every Division I bowl subdivision program. It would take an extraordinary set of circumstances for a Sun Belt team to make the field, so let’s limit the discussion to the power five conferences, Notre Dame and a few other teams such as Boise State and Brigham Young.
If you’re a member of the selection committee, you want simple answers, easy comparisons. That’s hardly possible when teams define their seasons and crown championships in different manners.
That cost the Big 12 last season. Six teams were serious contenders for four bracket spots. Florida State was undefeated, and the five others each had one loss. Those five teams didn’t look alike. Three had won 12 games, two had won 11. The three 12-game winners reached the bracket. Baylor and TCU did not.
The simple solution for the Big 12 would be to add two teams and return to a title game, but with no obvious candidates that bring brand value, the answer is not simple at all. And even if that occurred, the Big 12 would surrender the quality that distinguishes it from other leagues: a complete round-robin schedule.
Where does this leave the Big 12 and college football? My guess is the sport will move toward uniformity in media contracts and postseason structure. It’s been suggested that when the majority of network and cable deals approach expiration, the power conferences will negotiate the next round together, like the NFL.
Whether or not that happens, college football should work toward resembling the NFL in another area by creating a schedule formula that brings balance among the conferences. When it comes to college sports, everybody looks out for themselves, and invariably somebody winds up disadvantaged based on how many games they played, or what teams they avoided, or who does and doesn’t sponsor a championship game.
Five power conferences or four or six, complete round-robin schedules or not, the paths to the College Football Playoff shouldn’t be the road more traveled or less. They should measure the same distance.