Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby touted his league’s non-conference schedule. During his state-of-the-conference address Monday to kick off Big 12 Media Days, Bowlsby said, “This year’s nonconference schedule includes 11 institutions that were in bowl games last year, including both of the teams that were in the national championship game.
And so we are taking on all comers as the regular season progresses, but we’re also doing it in the nonconference as well.”
Maybe. Sort of. Not really. Not in the case of Baylor.
The defending champion Bears play SMU, Buffalo and Northwestern (La.) State. And that doesn’t change in the foreseeable future. Baylor does not have a game scheduled in the future with an opponent from a fellow major conference.
And Baylor coach Art Briles doesn’t sound like he’s interesting in changing that.
“The way I’ve looked at it is, you want to get in the Final Four and win the Big 12 and go unscathed,” Briles said. “You do that, you go 9-0 in the Big 12, you’re going to be in the Final Four because you’re going to beat probably two top-10 teams, probably two others in the top 20, and maybe another top 25, which is what we faced last year. That’s a resumé that’s good enough to match any other conference, because other conferences with the cross-over games aren’t getting that kind of competition week in/week out like we are in the Big 12.”
Here’s the flaw in that thinking. Only once since 2005 has a Big 12 team gone unbeaten in conference play (Texas 2009). The conference’s parity means even dominant teams, like OU and Texas in 2008 and OSU in 2011 stumble somewhere. Far better for a good team to have some non-conference cachet built up so that if it does stumble and finish 8-1 in the league, it has some decent support in the non-conference.
Bowlsby was asked if the league was concerned about Baylor’s schedule.
“I’m not going to comment on anybody’s specific schedule,” Bowlsby said. “But everyone has heard me say that if you’re sitting on a No. 5 ranking and you had a weak non-conference schedule, you’ll be in real jeopardy of not making the playoffs. They’ve all heard us talk about that.”
Bowlsby said the Big 12 is not likely to set a mandate of at least one game against a fellow major-conference opponent.
“I don’t know that we would do that, simply because we’re playing nine regular-season games,” Bowlsby said. “It gets a little bit dicey, too, with the five and four schedule. If you’re on the five home-game side of it, you can give a game and go on the road. When you play the intersectional contests, you’ve got to go home-and-home. You’re not going to buy any of those games. So you’ve got to have a year when you’ve got six or seven home games when you can go on the road and do one of those. That’s really difficult to do. That’s hard scheduling.”
Bowlsby said the Big 12’s television networks “don’t ever come to us and say, ‘you’ve got to get rid of this game and get another one.’ They’d like us to schedule as vigorously as we can. But their involvement is mostly moving the dates around. They don’t mess with the compostion very much.”
Bowlsby said the conference doesn’t pressure its members to beef up scheduling.
“I don’t know that pressure would be the right word, but we spend some time talking with them about it,” Bowlsby said. “It varies from year to year. Some are pretty good one year and not very good another. The non-conference schedule, you usually have one game on the schedule that you got scheduled eight years ahead of time, and you’ve got another game that you’re going to try to pick up late, that may be a good game, may be not be a good game. And then then there’s one that you’re figuring, it’s going to be a tuneup. If they don’t all fall together, you could end up with three that are not very good, or you could end up with three that are too good for you.
“The other thing is, if you’re at the bottom half of the league, you can’t go out and play murderer’s row. You’ve got to try and build your program. On the other hand, the flagship programs that are playing at the top of the game, you’d like to have them playing people. In the case of Oklahoma, they’ve got Notre Dame on the schedule and there are some good matchups and they’ve got a good team and it’s a good way to distinguish yourself at the national level. If you’re Iowa State or Kansas and you schedule murderer’s row, you almost schedule yourself out of being able to make the postseason. So there’s a balance there.”