Big 12 Can Hold Championship, Unlikely to Expand


For the last five years, fans of Big 12 teams have felt a meaningless void on that last Saturday before bowl season begins. Unwieldy yards are attended to. Grocery stores are jam-packed with wandering men and women in crimson and cream, blankly staring at party platters and cans of Ro-Tel. Children in Stillwater, Austin, and Lawrence are taken outside for the first time in months. The Big 12 is the only major conference that doesn’t currently hold a conference championship game, held at the end of the regular season and before the bowls begin.

An exaggeration for sure—Baylor and Texas happened to play a regular season game that Saturday —but nonetheless, those days may be ending. Yesterday the Division I council voted 7-2 to approve a rule change that would allow the 10-teamed Big 12—we’ll get to that incongruity in a minute—to play a championship game. Under normal NCAA football rules, a conference must be composed of at least 12 teams—two divisions of at least six teams —to warrant a championship. Only the Atlantic Coast Conference and American Athletic Conference voted against the rule change. The Pac-12 Conference abstained.

There are a few reasons for the push for the rule change and foremost, of course, is money. The TV rights for a Big 12 championship game could be worth $25-30 million. Tradition plays a role too: from 1996-2010, the conference held a championship game. Lastly, the “One True Champion” moniker that the Big 12 claims didn’t make much sense in 2014, when it was declared that Baylor and TCU would share the conference title. Having a definitive champion increases the chances of a Big 12 team making it into the newly implemented College Football Playoff. Incidentally, no Big 12 teams made it the year Baylor and TCU “tied.”

This doesn’t mean that the Big 12 will actually hold a championship game next year, or ever, according to conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who said in a statement, “I appreciate that what was acted upon today takes into account our unique 10-team, full round-robin scheduling model. However, this vote does not automatically mean the Big 12 will implement a football championship game.” Essentially, the Big 12 can hold a championship as early as this December. ESPN’s Max Olson reports that it is unlikely that the Big 12 will actually implement this rule change for the 2016 season.

The next step is adding two teams to the Big 12, as yet also undecided by the conference. Rumors of the University of Houston, BYU, Cincinnati, and UConn joining the Power 5 conference are unfounded and, now that the Big 12 can hold a championship with only 10 teams, unlikely in the near future.

“We are constantly monitoring the landscape,” Bowlsby said in an Associated Press report. “What it does is keep us from being forced to expand.”

Photo of the 2009 Big 12 Championship by Enoch Lai via Flickr.


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