Now that the Big 12 has decided to stay at 10 schools, it's time for the conference to figure out whether to split up into football divisions and determine who will play in the Big 12 championship game that returns next season.
“We weren't able to move forward in a direction until we knew about the composition of the conference going forward,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “We are looking at several options.”
If the league opts to return to divisions, the big question then becomes how to split into groups of five.
As a 12-team league until 2010, the Big 12 had North and South divisions. That is possible again, or maybe a roughly East-West split? There are four Texas schools, two each in Kansas and Oklahoma and one each in Iowa and West Virginia.
“It's a hard league to play in because you play everybody,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “Good teams are good teams. … It'll be interesting to see how they set it up and how they do it.”
The league is keeping the round-robin schedule proudly touted since dropping to 10 teams so, divisions or not, every team will still play each other every year. That's different from the larger conferences; Nebraska left the Big 12 for a 14-team Big Ten after the 2010 season and last weekend played Indiana in a conference game for the first time.
Traditional rivalry games like Texas-Oklahoma at the State Fair of Texas, Kansas-Kansas State and Baylor-TCU will continue an annual basis. There is just now the possibility of a championship game rematch.
Castiglione said league ADs will even consider the possibility of divisions that would change “every so many years” based on some sort of metric, perhaps standings from previous seasons.
Or without divisions, the league could match its top two overall finishers for the title game.
“There's certainly risk and reward with that choice, but it's an option,” Castiglione said.
With divisions in the smallest Power Five conference , teams from the other division could be scheduled to play in the first portion of conference play, providing a potential gap of a month or so between what will always be a rematch in the title game.
If taking the top two teams overall, there could be back-to-back games against the same teams. Last year, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were the top two teams after the Sooners won their annual Bedlam matchup by 35 points to end their regular seasons.
That would have also been a possibility this year, when ninth-ranked Baylor, 12th-ranked West Virginia and No. 16 Oklahoma are all still without a conference loss. The Bears and Mountaineers play on the final Saturday of the regular season.
NO PERFECT SPLITS OR NAMES
Splitting and naming divisions is always a challenge open to debate.
Remember the Legends and Leaders divisions for the Big Ten? It switched to East and West in 2014 when Maryland and Rutgers joined that league.
The ACC has Atlantic and Coastal divisions, though most of its 14 football teams are inland. When Missouri left the Big 12 for the 14-team SEC, the Tigers ended up in the East Division though they are one of only three SEC schools whose campus is West of the Mississippi River. The Pac-12 has North and South divisions, though the split is arguably more East-West.
DIVIDED BIG 12 LOOK
So how would be Big 12 look this season if already split up in divisions? Here are some possibilities:
Current Big 12 standings , conference records only: Baylor (3-0), Oklahoma (3-0), West Virginia (2-0) Oklahoma State (2-1), TCU (2-1), Kansas State (1-2), Texas (1-2), Texas Tech (1-2), Kansas (0-3), Iowa State (0-4).
— If North-South:
North: West Virginia (2-0), Oklahoma State (2-1), Kansas State (1-2), Kansas (0-3), Iowa State (0-4).
Had the Big 12 been split into divisions last season, things would have looked different, though Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would have been division champs in either scenario.
Final 2015 standings (conference records only): Oklahoma (8-1), Oklahoma State (7-2), TCU (7-2), Baylor (6-3), West Virginia (4-5), Texas Tech (4-5), Texas (4-5), Kansas State (3-6), Iowa State (2-7), Kansas (0-9).
— If North-South:
North: Oklahoma State (7-2), West Virginia (4-5), Kansas State (3-6), Iowa State (2-7), Kansas (0-9).
East: Oklahoma State (7-2), TCU (7-2), West Virginia (4-5), Texas Tech (4-5), Texas (4-5). ((asterisk)Oklahoma State beat TCU head-to-head).
West: Oklahoma (8-1), Baylor (6-3), Kansas State (3-6), Iowa State (2-7), Kansas (0-9).
The Big 12 started play in 1996 with North and South divisions. Six teams from the old Big Eight Conference were in the North, and that former league's other teams — Oklahoma and Oklahoma State — were in the South with four Texas schools from the old Southwest Conference.
After the North and South alternated wins in the first eight Big 12 championship games, the South won the last seven (Oklahoma five, Texas two).