This weekend, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State square off for the Big 12 conference championship. This is the last time the title will be decided in a regular season game, as the Big 12 will resume playing a conference title game in 2017.
No, they aren’t adding any teams. No, they aren’t moving to divisions.
The thinking is that even though there are only 10 Big 12 conference teams, a conference championship game will give the conference’s best team one more precious data point for the playoff selection committee to consider. This is believed to give the Big 12 a better chance of sending a representative to the annual College Football Playoff.
But does it really? Does the Big 12 really need a title game? Would it help put a team in the CFP more often? Let’s review.
Before we go any farther down this path, let’s agree that the CFP committee is completely unpredictable and does not follow their, or any, rules. So, there may be a year when they decide that one specific Big 12 team (OU or Texas) deserves a playoff spot regardless of any outcomes. Or, they may decide only teams that wear red should be in the playoff. Or only schools starting with A. You know, any rules that still favor Alabama are on the table.
For the 2nd consecutive year, Bedlam is for the Big 12 title and is being played in the last week of the regular season. This means that if there were a Big 12 conference championship game played between the top two finishers after the regular season, Bedlam would be played two weeks in a row.
Miraculously, earthquakes have yet to tear the state of Oklahoma apart yet, but I’m pretty sure two straight weeks of Bedlam football would do it.
Last season, we would have run back a blowout. How excited would anyone have been to watch a banged up and out-gunned OSU squad limp back out there the week after being embarrassed at home?
Let’s pretend, however, that the Pokes had gotten healthy between games and shocked the Sooners in the conference title game. That would have actually knocked the Big 12 out of their only playoff appearance. So in 2015, the Big 12 probably lucked out by not making OU play a 13th game.
This year, OU enters Bedlam ranked 9th in by the selection committee and OSU sits one spot behind them. If there were a Big 12 title game this season, neither team would get to the playoff if they split the two consecutive meetings.
Let’s say that either team were able to run through two straight games against their in-state rival. Do you think that would be enough to catapult them over the Big 10 champion, Pac 12 champion, and longtime committee girlfriend Michigan?
Does beating the same team twice provide twice the value? No, the more likely scenario is that the committee would drop the two-time loser way down the rankings, which would devalue both wins and the Big 12 champion would finish around 6th before the bowl season.
So this season, the Big 12 would get no additional value from a conference title game.
We can also examine the state of conferences who actually have conference title games already.
Let’s start with the Big 10. By many accounts, it’s the most competitive and strongest conference this year, overtaking the longtime girlfriend of ESPN, the SEC. Even so, the conference’s two best teams had an easier path to the playoff by missing the conference title game. The two teams in the title game, Penn State and Wisconsin, need to not only win the conference crown, but get help to potentially make the top 4. Meanwhile, Ohio State is comfortably locked in and resting this weekend.
Unless a conference championship game hurts another conference, the Big 10 title game is meaningless to the selection committee.
Let’s jump to the Pac 12, where Washington has the number 4 spot in the playoff after leapfrogging Michigan and takes on Colorado. If the Huskies lose, they’ll fall out of the playoff, but the win would likely not be enough to push the Buffs into it.
So, this conference title game can only hurt the conference. If Washington didn’t play another game, their 11-1 record may just be enough to hold off a two loss Big 10 champ.
A conference title game also has only the potential to hurt the ACC, where a Clemson loss would result in no ACC team in the top 4 and their spot likely taken by the Big 10 champion.
The only scenario this season where the conference title game can’t hurt the conference is in the SEC where Alabama can do whatever it pleases and still probably finish no lower than second. So conference championship games in 2016 are basically only meaningful if the favorite loses and ultimately hurt the conference.
Would this be true every season? No.
It’s possible that without a championship game, a Big 12 team sitting in the 4th and final playoff spot could be jumped by a team just on the outside of the playoff who wins convincingly in their conference title game. That rare scenario may be the only one where a conference title game makes sense for the Big 12, however.
In 2014, would the Big 12 have gotten either Baylor or TCU into the playoff with a 13th game? That season is considered by many to be the catalyst that pushed the Big 12 admins to add a title game in the 2017 season. But remember that each of the top 4 won their final games before the playoff that year. In fact, the 4th ranked team, Ohio State, destroyed 13th ranked Wisconsin to make a valuable final statement.
What are the chances the Big 12 title result would have been impressive enough to overtake the Buckeyes?
The lesson here is not to overreact to a small sample size. A conference title game is likely to hurt as much, if not more, than it would help in terms of putting a Big 12 representative into the playoff.
Of course, it will definitely help to earn more revenue for the conference.
Wait just a minute…
Do you think this whole thing was just for the money, and the excuse that an extra game at a neutral site will help produce more playoff appearances for the conference is just a distraction from the cash grab?
Nah, college sports are about amateur athletics, never money…