DALLAS — Between marketing videos, giant graphics and catch phrases, the first of two Big 12 Media Days was largely devoted to distinguishing the conference from others.
No divisions. Everyone plays everyone.
“One True Champion” — or so they say.
Yes, the only major Football Bowl Subdivision conference without a championship game — that crowned “co-champions” only 20 months ago — proudly repeated its catchy, if inaccurate, slogan many times Monday. With the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff looming, public politicking will undoubtedly remain part of the process.
“I think the fact that we play everybody in our league is a nuance that is not going to be lost on the selection committee,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
But how much might the lack of a conference championship game hurt the Big 12’s chances of landing a team in future playoffs? No one inside the Omni Dallas Hotel seemed too concerned about it, although Bowlsby did admit the league could find itself wishing it had a title game someday.
“I think there will be a year when we'll say, ‘Gosh, if we could have just played one more good opponent we might have been able to demonstrate that we were good enough,’” Bowlsby said.
The ACC, Big 10, SEC and Pac-12 all play conference championship games, something the Big 12 ditched when it dropped to 10 teams following the 2010 season.
Almost immediately, Oklahoma State dealt with the possible consequences of the Big 12 lacking a championship game. The Cowboys finished the 2011 regular season with an 11-1 record and as the outright Big 12 champions, but they were held out of a national title game that featured an SEC rematch between LSU and Alabama.
OSU coach Mike Gundy said Monday that he thinks the Cowboys’ late-season loss at Iowa State played the biggest factor in their BCS title game snub, though.
Asked if a conference championship game might have helped, Gundy said: “It could have. Because we could have come back, played again, played well, people see us. But we played well against Oklahoma in the end, about as well as we could on a national level.”
TCU coach Gary Patterson said he isn’t worried about the lack of a Big 12 title game because he thinks his squad plays a tough non-conference schedule each year. Last season, the Horned Frogs opened with LSU.
He also pointed out that a conference title game can hurt a team in some instances. Kansas State, for example, entered the 1998 Big 12 title game undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country before Texas A&M upset the Wildcats.
Interestingly, Bowlsby did say he wants to see the rules that don’t allow a league to stage a conference title game unless it has two divisions with at least six teams each changed.
“We would like the prerogative to, at some point in time, have that discussion and make a decision as to whether or not we might want to take our two highest ranked schools in the poll and have them play each other at the end of the year,” Bowlsby said.
For now, though, the Big 12 seems perfectly content sticking with its current format, which — contrary to the league’s “One True Champion” campaign — leaves open the possibility of multiple teams being crowned at the end of the season.
In 2012, Kansas State beat Oklahoma head-to-head in Norman, but the two schools each finished with 8-1 Big 12 records and each received a Big 12 championship trophy. In theory, more teams than that could share a conference title, with several tiebreakers used to determine the league’s representative in the Sugar Bowl.
Bowlsby sidestepped a question about the apparent contradiction, but said definitively that he likes his league’s system for awarding championships.
“I like our path to the championship very much, and that really is sum and substance of why we are promoting the difference between how we determine a champion and how other leagues determine their champions,” Bowlsby said.
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