Big 12 Reinstitutes Football Conference Championship Game for 2017

The determining factor in the Big 12's approval of a conference championship game came down to the same one that has driven every other conference realignment and change over the past several years.

Cash. Green. Dinero. Benjamins. Whatever your vernacular, that's the driving factor in the Big 12's decision to reinstate its conference championship game, which was last held in 2010. The league conducted 15 such contests before school departures dropped the league below the minimum number of teams required to stage the event. That restriction has since been removed.

As we noted yesterday, this move was not unexpected, and did not depend on expanding the league membership or forming a league television network. It was a standalone decision, and as such could be voted on and implemented separately from the other two large issues hanging over the league. 

While at least one very pricey study and a good deal of debate was heard over the pluses and minuses of bringing back the league title game, in the end it was the money that held sway. The game, which will not occur following this season, but will start up after the 2017 season, is estimated to bring in somewhere in the high $20 million dollar range in income. Even after the broadcasting network gets its cut, each school will easily realize more than a million dollars in revenue each year, and perhaps more.  Fox will televise the first game in 2017, followed by ESPN 2018. The networks will alternate coverage over the life of the current contract.

That amount becomes even more important when paired with the news that expansion has hit, if not a stop, at least a slowdown, and that the "traditional sense" of a league television network appears to be dead. Without those two potential sources of additional revenue, at least in the short term, the league had to do something to bolster its future income, and the title game was the easiest way in which to do so. Although the league did announce a 20% increase in the amount of disbursements to league members for this year (each school will pocket $30.4 million), the gap between it and the Big Ten and SEC is growing, and without the money from the championship game, it would only get wider.

The league also based its decision on consultants' studies and reports which indicated an advantage for the league putting a team in the College Football Playoff if it held the championship game. However, that perception (because there is no way to predict what the selection committee will do), is offset by the fact that Big 12 teams, if the league keeps the round robin schedule, might have the toughest path to the CFP. With a league mandate in place for at least one Power Five team on future schedules, CFP aspirants would have to navigate 11 P5 games with no more than one loss in order to be a viable candidate. Still, that nebulous idea of an "extra data point" proffered by the CFP committee, apparently was a big factor in the consultants' reports.

As noted in the lead video, there are some objections to the extra game. If the league stays at ten teams and keeps its round-robin format, it will force a rematch of a regular season contest. That hasn't been a killer for other leagues, but it certainly puts a stake through the idea behind the "One True Champion" mantra that the Big 12 has espoused. It will be tough to sell that motto if a team that lost a regular season match-up by three scores ekes out a one-point victory in the title game.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby observed that several different models could be implemented with the return of the game, including the setting of two five-team divisions. However, if the league also holds on to the round robin format, that could result in a championship game between two teams that don't have the league's best records. Bowlsby noted that other concerns, such as late season rematches, were also examined, but that in the end, "the research we have done tells us we are better with a game than without." He added that the league would look at other models before settling on any changes for the 2017 season.

"The information we saw from our consultants was very compelling," Bowlsby said. "The Big 12 staff and Athletic directors will go about the process of fleshing out scheduling and the way in which the teams are chosen."


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