Title game return spells trouble for short-sighted Big 12

IRVING, Texas — The Big 12’s spending an awful lot of time worrying about the wrong number.

13?

How about 59?

Almost five months since their conference was excluded from the first College Football Playoff, Bob Bowlsby and his merry band of 10 athletic directors finally got some answers about why TCU and Baylor were excluded from the playoff in favor of Ohio State.

"All things equal, 13 data points were better than 12 data points," Bowlsby said committee chairman Jeff Long told the league commissioners on Wednesday. "What we heard is if we don’t go to a championship game we’re at a disadvantage."

That may be true, but occasions in which all things are equal are the exception more often than the rule.

The Big 12’s possible next move–reinstituting its championship game–would be reactionary and short-sighted at best and disastrous at worst.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock said Wednesday that Ohio State’s 13th game was a factor in its playoff inclusion at the expense of TCU, Baylor and the Big 12.

"It helped Ohio State," he said.

What gets overlooked is this: Ohio State did not jump ahead of TCU and Baylor because it played a 13th game. It jumped ahead of TCU and Baylor because it won its 13th game by 59 points over a Heisman contender and the nation’s No. 11 team.

The Big 12 and ACC petitioned the NCAA to deregulate championship games and allow conferences to hold them without the required 12 members and multiple divisions.

Even still, before Wednesday, the chances of the Big 12 actually bringing back the title game appeared slim. Bowlsby emerged from the conference room at the Four Seasons looking and sounding defeated, frustrated that the so-called "13th data point" only came up for discussion after it had been played.

The percent chance the Big 12 brings back the title game is higher than it’s ever been and might go up again when the league’s coaches and athletic directors convene in Phoenix next week, where Bowlsby will relay what Long told the commissioners inside the meeting room.

Last week, five of the league’s nine returning coaches had no problem with re-instituting the Big 12 title game. Considering how relentless coaches are in grappling for the inside track in any race, choosing to take the long road here is enough to leave anyone burying their face in their hands in disbelief.

"I think based upon what happened last year, I think it’s not as much being for or against it, that it’s going a necessity for our league," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Because from what I’ve heard that definitely had some impact on how it all transpired with the playoff."

He’s right, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the case every year.

If bringing back the title was a money grab spearheaded by the commissioner or athletic directors, (Back in 1996, it was. The league’s coaches voted 12-0 against holding it when the Big 12 began play.) it would at least make sense.

That is not the case this time around.

The league’s coaches seem intent on ruining what is the easiest road to the playoff among the five major conferences. The Big 12’s coaches and athletic directors will host their annual meetings in Phoenix next week and the issue of the title game’s return is on the docket.

A vote for the Big 12 title game is, quite simply, a vote for ignorance of history.

College football’s five major conferences have played 55 championship games in their collective history. Only one ended with a more lopsided score than Ohio State’s shocking 59-0 rout of Wisconsin.

Texas beat Colorado 70-3 back in 2005 and the next time it took the field, captured a national title.

"Everyone understands the risks and rewards of playing conference championship games," Hancock said.

Ohio State is the only program who understands the former but the Big 12 has an all-too-intimate understanding of the latter.

All the fixation on what Ohio State gained by a conference championship win that can best be described as historical anomaly distracts from all the Big 12 lost by initially hosting a title game.

From 1996-2010, five Big 12 teams ranked No. 3 or higher stumbled in their final hurdle to the BCS National Championship Game.

Ohio State is the rare case of a team catapulted into contention by a stellar closing argument, but consider the playoff’s other three participants: If you’d polled Florida State, Alabama and Oregon, you can bet all three would prefer to skip playing their conference title games.

The Big 12 has positioned itself to enjoy this luxury and is inexplicably mulling the idea of throwing it away.

This conversation hasn’t even turned to the problematic issue of playing a round-robin schedule capped by a game between the league’s two best teams, presuming the Big 12 doesn’t split into two five-team divisions, which would be unlikely.

That only guarantees two things:

1) One of the Big 12’s two best teams is guaranteed to lose on the final weekend.

2) The Big 12 goes from the easiest road to the playoff to the most difficult.

In four seasons, no Big 12 team has gone undefeated under the new round-robin schedule.

If the ball bounced a different way for any of the four teams ahead of them, the Big 12 might have accounted for 50 percent of the four-team playoff field. Bringing back the title game all but eliminates that opportunity in the future.

Adding a title game to that slate says one thing: "We hate playing for national championships! Let’s make doing it even more difficult!"

The Big 12’s five-year absence from the BCS Championship Game and playoff has cost it in the all-important perception race.

Bringing back an opportunity for a playoff candidate to stumble at the finish line will only make title opportunities for the Big 12 less frequent.

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