I would be a fool to say that the Big 12 fan base is comfortable with a championship game being played between two teams that have already played each other. It just doesn’t feel right, and is counter to the way we are used to championship slots being filled. So why do it? Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby spoke about making the decision at Big 12 Media Days on Monday.
“As you know, we had heard from the CFP Selection Committee that the fact that we didn’t have that 13th data point”, Bowlsby said. “The championship game, two teams highly ranked matching up at the end of the season, even though we had good matchups the year that TCU and Baylor were left out, we had the highest ranked matchup on Championship Saturday with Baylor and Kansas State.”
It’s obvious. The reason it was created is because the playoff committee said so. They don’t respect the round robin schedule. They want a championship game win at the end of the season as THE hurdle for getting in to the playoff.
If only that were true. Ohio State made the playoff last season, and not only were they not the Big Ten Champion, they didn’t even play in the championship game.
Therein is the point of conflict for the Big 12. The decision makers require a championship game, and yet they make decisions on a body of work that doesn’t include a championship game appearance. Which is it? The Big 12 had to choose and they chose to add the additional data point.
I believe that was the right decision.
The Big 12 will never have a non-championship participant be included in the College Football Playoff. The simple fact is that the number two team in the conference will have potentially suffered a disqualifying loss, and it is impossible for the number three team to have only one loss; like can occur in the other Power 5 conferences. Therefore, the winner of the championship will be a team surging with a strong body of work on the other 12 data points.
That means the champion, with strong non-conference wins and a second win or a revenge win against a strong conference foe, creates an almost undeniable case for selection in to the College Football Playoff. It may be that in most years, the Big 12 championship game winner is an automatic qualifier. That is a position Penn State wishes it held in its league.
But what about the year that the Big 12 championship game features two teams with multiple losses due to non-conference losses and Big 12 upsets? I would say that in those years the Big 12 wouldn’t deserve a team in the playoff any way. Last year for instance. Oklahoma was stellar by the end of the year, but an early loss to Houston and a second to Ohio State made the mountain extremely steep. Oklahoma State with losses, ahem, to Central Michigan, Baylor, and Oklahoma had too much to overcome to make a legitimate case for inclusion as well. However, a second win over Oklahoma State in a championship game might have been enough to push Oklahoma in to the field.
What about the possibility that an otherwise qualified candidate is upset in the championship game and that is a second loss that would disqualify them from contention? Great point, but it looks past the win that the second place team garners. That certainly creates potential for exclusion, but the second place team will have scored a top 10 victory and shown itself worthy of inclusion.
The only real risk is that there is a clear number one and the number two team is chosen from a gaggle of teams tied with three league losses. Then, the three-loss team wins the championship game. That can happen and that is the risk that is run. But, isn’t that present in every championship game?
In my view, the Big 12 Championship provides no more risk to its members than they have previously faced without one. They didn’t get in without one, the Committee says to play one, so they are. It is the best chance to change perception and create an annual trip to college football’s biggest stage.
In time, the Big 12 Champion will be able to say they navigated the toughest conference schedule in the Power 5 and they won a championship game. Those are strong data points. They will pull interest in their game because it will feature the two best teams in the league, not a contender and pretender. Both will raise the perception of the conference and elevate it to the top of the Power 5.
“I think it’s important that our best teams are the two that contest the championship game. That gives us the best springboard. Is there a possibility that a different team would win? Yeah, there sure is. There are a number of tiebreak situations where you could find yourself with a great matchup, you could find yourself with a less compelling matchup.
“But generally speaking, playing a full round robin and having our two best teams play each other on the last day of the season is a good thing and a right way to conduct our championship.”