Thursday, January 31, 2013
Keeping Big 12 title game away is right call
By David Ubben
The folks in control of the Big 12's future have two responsibilities: Set up the conference for success on the field and off it. The first means championships. The second means money. Maintaining that balance isn't easy.
A single school could play three top-15 teams in nonconference play and make a whole bunch of TV money. It also wouldn't spend much time in the BCS.
On Wednesday night, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told reporters in Stillwater, Okla., that the Big 12 will "probably ask" the NCAA for a waiver that allows the league to host a Big 12 title game for the first time since 2010.
Earlier, Bowlsby told the Austin American-Statesman that "we have no plans to implement a championship game." The move is likely a precaution, but if it's granted, it would afford the Big 12 the possibility to do something that would hurt the league in the big picture. For now, the league has made it clear it doesn't have any desire to play a title game in the current climate.
In the event that changes, the Big 12 would be focusing too much on off-the-field success (read: cash) at the cost of the league's on-field product. After the 2010 season, the Big 12 moved to a nine-game conference schedule, rather than the eight-game version that the league used in the first decade and a half of its existence.
In both years with a nine-game schedule, a late-season road game against a sub-.500 team spelled disaster for the Big 12's national title contender. Iowa State downed Oklahoma State in double overtime in 2011, and this year, Kansas State got rocked in Waco by Baylor before the Bears keyed off a late-season run to a bowl game and an 8-5 season.
If they somehow actually bring back the Big 12 title game, they would be asking the league's members to weather one of the most difficult roads of any conference in the country to win a national title. The league earned its status this season as the nation's deepest conference when it sent 90 percent of its teams to a bowl game, the highest percentage of any conference in college football history.
There has been a lack of top-tier teams in the Big 12 in recent years (where, oh where, did 2008 go?), but there has been a surplus of teams who could beat anyone in the league. That has been proved with the league's late-season slip-ups -- losses that cost the conference a chance at its third national title of the BCS era and the first since Vince Young and Texas were the last non-SEC team to win a title in 2005.
To win a national title, Big 12 teams would have to beat every single one of those teams. Then on the final week of the season, with the pressure and stakes at their highest point, they'd have to play the league's No. 2 team, possibly on a neutral field. That's 10 quality opponents on a 13-game schedule, and maybe 11 or 12, depending on how that team scheduled teams from out of the conference.
The Pac-12 is the only other league with a nine-game schedule. The conference championship, however, is played between divisions and UCLA was only 6-6 when it lost the first title match in 2011, and was outside the top 15 when it lost last season's game to Stanford.
A hard road might satisfy the the Big 12's most macho fans -- who will play "anyone! anywhere! any time!" -- and might satisfy TV networks looking to write a check for a tantalizing conference schedule.
It won't, however, satisfy the fans who want to see the Big 12 compete for, and win, national titles as often as possible. That's a shame, and the Big 12 would be well-suited to stick to Bowlsby's insistence that the league won't be pursuing a title game, even though it will apply for a waiver to do so.