Structure of Football Conference Next Hurdle for Big 12 Conference

A Big 12 football conference championship game is set for the 2017 season, but not everyone sees the decision as a win. Its establishment also causes some other weighty decisions to be made in terms of the league structure.

Pete Fiutak of Campus Insiders still clings to the "One True Champion" motto of the Big 12, and believes that an 11-1 league titlist would get in the College Football Playoff no matter what. While that's open to debate, Fiutak, in the video above, details some of his reasons against the addition of the extra game. The one big point -- the potential for a low-seed upset of a clear favorite, is certainly a valid one, but it's an objection that was overruled by the twin waves of additional revenue and the stance of the CFP committee, which clearly favors such a contest in its thinking.

That doesn't mean, though, that such objections should be outright disregarded. The specters of #13 Kansas State knocking off #1 Oklahoma and the ninth-ranked Sooners dropping top-ranked Missouri in previous title tilts still haunt the halls of the Big 12 offices. There's no way to prevent repeats in the future, but might the league do something to lessen the possibility?

The Big 12 is not required to split into two divisions in order to stage the championship game, which has the greater potential of producing a lower-ranked division winner knocking off a more highly rated one. The two-division approach does remain an option, according to Big 12 Director of Communications Rob Carolla, but it is not mandated.

“There are, as you can imagine, a number of issues and factors that will go into that decision,” Carolla told “A number of people in the league office, in conjunction with the [school] athletic directors, will be taking the lead and working on that.”

While all of those items weren't detailed, there's really only one strong reason to split into two divisions. Since the league will still conduct a round-robin schedule, it could structure a two-division schedule so that all of the cross-division games happen early in the season, so as to prevent a quick rematch in the conference championship game. On the surface, that seems like a reasonable goal, but does it really matter? Or is it just a straw man?

Quick turnarounds happen in many other college sports. On the Big 12 basketball schedule, two regular season games between foes often occur within 10-12 days of each other. Quick rematches in the Big 12 Championship often occur. The same is true in baseball, where regular season series often spill right into Championship week. TCU and Texas Tech even squared off in their openers in the College World Series this year, where teams are expecting to see different foes more often than not. So, is there really any negative in playing a team in late November, then seeing them again for the league title?

If the answer to that is no, then there's no real reason to split a round-robin Big 12 football league into two divisions, and no need to take the winner of each side as the automatic participants in the championship game. Simply take the top two league finishers and pair them up in Dallas or Kansas City, and let the chips fall where they may. Of course, that selection process also opens its own can of worms. Are the participants solely based on conference or overall records? Does the Big 12 employ its own tiebreakers? Or should it use the CFP rankings, as has been suggested by some, and take the top two? The latter choice takes the decision out of the hands of the Big 12, and in a way gives the CFP even more power. That group has already forced, albeit indirectly, the league to hold a title game. Would allowing it to identify, via its rankings, the championship game participants give it too much sway? It's also not difficult to imagine a scenario where three Big 12 teams are battling for the spot, and one with a better league record gets left out based on those rankings. Does that devalue league play somewhat? And again, does that matter?

When viewed from a national perspective and the selection of CFP teams, the importance of conference games as their own entity is definitely lessened. It's the overall that matters, an perhaps it's time to let some of that fall by the wayside. Of course, the strength of conference foes is vital, as that helps the top teams build their resumes, but in the end it probably doesn't matter if the Big 12 champion's loss comes to a league foe or an out of conference opponent. It's the overall that matters, and that again would seem to point to a structure that doesn't include divisions. 

These aren't easy issues, but they are ones that have to be solved, and relatively quickly. While the first championship game is still 18 months away, there are a lot of logistical hurdles to be cleared, with the structure of the conference just one of those. According to Carolla, no timetable exists for making the conference alignment decisions, but that doesn't mean the clock isn't ticking. 

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