The Big 12 got everyone excited a month ago when it admitted that it would ask the NCAA to change the rule that required conferences to have at least 12 schools in order to stage a football championship game.
But clearly, the Big 12 has no immediate interest in a conference championship game, and commissioner Bob Bowlsby has some major ammunition in explaining why.
“Would we go back to a conference championship game?” Bowlsby asked. “Take a look at the attendance on the conference championship games this year and take a look at the TV ratings. They aren’t the kind of things that are going to invite you to take that up as a new business proposition.”
The Big 12 typically had excellent attendance at its championship games. Not always a sellout, but only one or two embarrassing crowds – OU-Colorado in 2002 in Houston most notably. More typical were the full houses for OU-Nebraska in Arlington and Kansas City, and OU-Kansas State in Kansas City, and Texas-Nebraska in Arlington.
The SEC Championship Game in Atlanta always is a great spectacle. But the other league title games often are tough sells.
In 2012, the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis matching Wisconsin and Nebraska drew 41,260. The ACC title game in Charlotte, N.C., matching Florida State and Georgia Tech drew an announced crowd of 64,778 to 73,778-seat Bank of America Stadium, but eight sections of the stadium were tarped off, tickets were reported being sold for $2-4 and ESPN estimated a crowd no bigger than 30,000. And the Pac-12 title game, played at Stanford Stadium and matching Stanford and UCLA, drew just 31,622.
Clearly, outside the SEC, the market for a conference title game is not great.
“We don’t have any aspiration to bring back the conference championship game,” Bowlsby said last week while speaking at the OSU Spears School of Business’ Executive Management Briefings at the Cox Center. “That is not the essence of why we forwarded our plan to forward the legislation to deregulate that.”
Some have championed a conference title game – Kansas State coach Bill Snyder among them – even with a 10-team league. But the Big 12 is just positioning itself in case circumstances require a conference title game – the new playoff format, for example. I don’t think such a stipulation will occur, but you never know what will come out of negotiations.
The Big 12 would prefer at least keeping the option of a 10-team league, even if it is required to play a title game.
“At a time there are deregulation movements going on in a wide variety of areas, this is one where conferences ought to be able to identify their own ways of selecting a conference champion,” Bowlsby said. “If that includes a playoff between two high-ranked teams, that’s fine. If it requires a playoff between the winners of two divisions, that’s fine. But it shouldn’t have to be two six-team divisions. Could be two five-team divisions. Just seems like an obvious place where deregulation makes a lot of sense.
“We aren’t aspirationally planning to do that. We just think it ought to be deregulated, and it obviously gives us flexibility if we ever change our mind.”