Big 12 meetings: Day 1 notebook
What was decided on Day 1 of the Big 12’s annual meetings?
Not much, but there was plenty to talk about after the conference’s athletic directors spent more time on Wednesday discussing issues that impact all of college football than issues the Big 12 must deal with alone.
The prospect of college football’s biggest five conferences earning autonomy from smaller leagues loomed over the meetings, and much of Wednesday’s discussion centered around what that means for collegiate athletics moving forward.
"We spent a fair amount of time talking about rules changes and governance changes within the context of a litigious environment," commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
The possibility of providing athletes with the full cost of attendance or a flat stipend was discussed, as well as better medical care, giving students the ability to return to earn their degrees after they’ve left for the pros or exhausted eligibility.
"We really are working hard to have a new covenant with the student-athlete. It’s entirely factual that many aspects of the NCAA rules we all helped put in place have not evolved significantly over the last three decades," Bowlsby said. "We have 65 votes out of 351. Had we a voting majority, there are a lot of things we might have put in place that could have been highly beneficial for the organization of college athletics and individual student athletes."
One interesting note: Nobody in the Big 12 seems very keen on using the term "Big 5" in relation to the 65 teams who are members of the Big 12, SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten. Any AD who spoke to media on Wednesday referred to the 65-school group as the "high visibility conferences." Texas AD Steve Patterson consulted his notes briefly before using the term during a session with media at the end of the day’s meetings.
Scheduling a hot topic
Reigning Big 12 champion Baylor has earned criticism in recent years for weak nonconference scheduling. The Bears recently signed a series with Incarnate Word, who began fielding a team in 2009 and just moved up to Division I in 2013. Baylor is the only Big 12 team who won’t play a Big 5 conference opponent in 2014 and hasn’t since facing Wake Forest in 2009, though the Bears did continue a rivalry with TCU in 2010 and 2011.
The College Football Playoff has been adamant that strength of schedule will be a major consideration in selecting the four national title semifinalists.
Bears AD Ian McCaw echoed coach Art Briles’ recent response to the criticism saying he’s confident the Big 12 champion will be well positioned in the playoff. He also cited Baylor’s new $260 million home, McLane Stadium, as a reason why the Bears haven’t scheduled future games against bigger name opponents: Most want a return game at the opposing stadium as part of the deal.
The Big 12 has games against national champion Florida State, national runner-up Auburn, Alabama, BYU, UCLA, Maryland, Minnesota, Iowa and Tennessee this year. Currie called it an "opportunity" for the Big 12 to make its mark early in the conference season with quality wins, and future schedules in the playoff era were a topic of discussion in Wednesday’s meetings.
"You don’t have to play murderer’s row, but if you think you’re going to be in the mix, you need to play a representative nonconference schedule," Bowlsby said. "It’s kind of like in basketball: You don’t have to play everybody in the top 50, but want to avoid playing teams in the bottom 100."
The Big 12 won’t alter its scheduling and play nonconference games in November, however. The practice is common in the SEC, and Patterson couldn’t help but needle the conference when the issue came up.
"They seem to need a little break to rest and relax," he said.
Patterson said Texas will maintain its policy of attempting to play one team in the top 20 and another in the top 30-40, but left the door open for more difficult matchups.
"Charlie (Strong)’s not afraid to play teams in the conversations we’ve had," he said. "Bring on the best."
‘No extreme momentum’ in early signing period debate
Instituting an early signing period for football was a major talking point at SEC meetings in Destin, Fla. this week, but there’s been no consensus from the Big 12’s athletic directors or coaches.
The issue came up late in the afternoon on Wednesday and was discussed briefly, but the Big 12 won’t make any recommendation to the conference commissioners. Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt said the league may reach a consensus within the next 12 months, but warned that the commissioners held the power in changing the rules and could conceivably change the rule tomorrow if they so desired. That won’t happen, but one obstacle for several athletic directors is conflicting opinions from their respective coaching staffs, depending on the situation.
"It depends on the morning. When you’re recruiting and you’ve got that great guy going with you the whole time, you’re in favor of early signing day," TCU AD Chris Del Conte told Fox Sports Southwest. "When you snake that guy on signing day, it’s ‘Hey, we gotta keep signing day where it is.’ So it’s all based on position and circumstances."
Players can commit to schools whenever they choose but can’t sign a letter of intent until early February of their senior years, a little more than six months before college classes begin. There is also disagreement on when the signing day could take place. Some favor early August so it doesn’t interfere with high school or college football season. Others would like to see it instituted in late November or December.
"There’s no extreme momentum for that," Kansas State AD John Currie said. "For every argument for that, there’s a big stack of arguments against it."
Currie said he believes the biggest positive for the early signing period is avoiding the madness of signing day on the back end, where decommitments and hectic final pushes are common for high school recruits. He fears trying to fix that problem may produce other unforeseen issues.
An early signing period will drive more early recruiting and more early decisions. I personally believe those decisions are being made far too early to the detriment of the student athletes, especially in football, of being successful at their schools," he said.
Rankings switch in title tiebreaker
The 2008 season meant college football got up close and personal with the Big 12’s three-way tiebreaker rules. The third step of that process used to be left up to the BCS rankings. Now, it’ll be handed over to the College Football Playoff rankings, which the 13-member CFP committee will release each week beginning in October.
"All it is is nomenclature," Bowlsby said. "You’re just replacing the BCS with the CFP."
The Big 12 tiebreaker will still include what came to be known as the "DeLoss Rule," named for former Texas AD DeLoss Dodds, who campaigned for change. In 2008, Oklahoma played for the Big 12 title as the Big 12 South champion and eventually played for the national title despite losing to Texas, who had an identical record.
In 2011, the Big 12 added a clause that in a three-way tie, if the team who won the head-to-head battle was just one spot below the highest-ranked Big 12 team, it would be crowned the league’s automatic qualifier in the BCS and now, the College Football Playoff. That rule will be retained.
"It’s DeLoss’ lasting legacy," Kansas State AD John Currie said.
Bowlsby said the league will revisit the issue in August to make sure there are no concerns in making the move official.
Come hungry, stay late
The NCAA legislative council approved in April unlimited meals for student-athletes, and much of Wednesday’s meeting was spent discussing the logistics of making that happen. The rule goes into effect on Aug. 1.
"I was surprised at how much variance the was between schools, but there’s a fairly high comfort level at dealing with the difficulties of each campus without one thinking, ‘Oh, they’re going to get an advantage on us," Bowlsby said.
Kansas State estimated that the rule change will cost Kansas State between $700,000 and $1 million a year. Patterson said the cost for Texas could be between $750,000 and more than $2 million.
Currie said Kansas State plans on providing a breakfast snack for athletes in the morning as well as pre and post-practice food. K-State’s new athletic facility will also provide "fueling stations" that athletes can access any time day or night that could feature things like banana smoothies.
Bowlsby called the rule change something "we’ve sought for many years."
UConn guard and national champion Shabazz Napier earned headlines this spring when he said he went hungry some nights, despite earning millions for the university during its tournament run.
"I don’t believe there’s anybody going hungry in the Big 12," Currie said. "If one of them doesn’t have money in their pocket on Monday morning, they can come in and eat breakfast."
Could some schools now use food as a recruiting advantage?
"Does not having to stand in line (for Franklin Barbecue) count as an extra benefit?" Patterson said.
Playoff pole position
No one seemed concerned about the Big 12’s stake in the playoff in the wake of Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s assertion this week that the SEC would put a "minimum" of two teams in the playoff each year.
"We’ll be as well represented as any conference," Texas president Bill Powers said. "Our history proves that."
Added Currie: ""Round-robin never leaves debate on strength of schedule. We’re positioned extraordinarily well."
He said it
"I don’t believe that, I never have believed that." — Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby on the College Football Playoff eventually expanding from four teams to eight