Judging The Big 12 Football Tiebreaker

On Wednesday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced the procedures that would be used to break ties in the football conference final standings to declare "one true champion". There are two important items to take away from this overdue decision.

When the league fixed the glaring inconsistency between its slogan -- "One True Champion" -- and its actual results, there was the predictable response of "finally". That's understandable, because last year's embarrassment of "no true champion" was a black eye for the league. At its spring meetings this week, the member schools fixed that problem, applying a four-step tiebreaker that looks very good, until it gets to step three.

To recap, two teams that tie atop the league will be separated by their head-to-head result. Last year, that would have earned Baylor the crown, by virtue of its comeback win over TCU. For ties of three or more teams, head to head results among all tied teams are compared. If that doesn't break the tie, records against the next highest placed team in the league are examined, continuing all the way down the conference ladder. And if that doesn't do it, scoring differential comes into play among the tied teams, which is a bit of a thorn, as it might encourage running up the score. However, given that the scores will only be compared among teams involved in the tiebreaker, it's not as if pounding Kansas will have any effect on things, so that's probably not a huge concern. And it's probably more fair than bringing other comparisons, such as the holder of a win over the highest ranked out of conference team, would be.

The second item is more a view on the way evaluation of the tiebreaker will play out in the future, along with the related corollary of not holding a league championship game. While the league's announcement was met with mostly positive reactions now, it's easy to envision a scenario which raises more questions.

Say, for example, that Oklahoma State and TCU tie for the league crown, and that OSU won the head-to-head. The Cowboys win the Big 12. But say that's also TCU's lone loss, while OSU's loss in the league came to a team midway down the league standings. It might well be that TCU is higher rated than OSU in the College Football Playoff rankings (and the minds of the selectors). Would the fact that they Horned Frogs were not the league's declared champions hurt them in the eyes of the CFP committee?

While the conference championship is one data point that is supposed to be considered by the committee, would a "bad" loss overcome that? Would the public outcry surpass that of last year's decision in which Baylor and TCU were both left out? Would that matter?

Granted, the Big 12's decision was sparked by the need to address its muddled championship picture first and foremost. However, there's also no doubt that the decisions made were in direct response to the CFP committee's action a year ago. Naming a champion is a step toward making it easier for the CFP to differentiate among league teams, but with that conference championship game -- the "13th data point" in the selection process, the league might still trail the other Power 5 conferences in the perception of how the champion was named.

There are strong arguments to be made on both sides of the championship game question, and it's not as if an extra game would solve this issue entirely. But it's important to note that while the "One True Champion" motto will finally be upheld, it doesn't eliminate the potential of more controversy in the future.


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