The new College Football Playoff is unquestionably an improvement over the old BCS formula. I grew up going to SWC games, where the only goal was to advance to the Cotton Bowl.
This new format has given me far more incentive to stay up after midnight watching matchups such as Arizona State-Oregon State. I never had more than a passing interest in the SEC until those schools’ games started affecting my favorite conference and alma mater (Baylor, for the record). But now that TCU and Baylor are vying for a playoff spot, it’s becoming apparent the Big 12 has a distinct disadvantage. For one, the lack of a conference championship game makes it harder for the Big 12 to make a late statement. The Baylor-Kansas State game Dec. 6 could end up partially serving that purpose.
The Big 12 went to great lengths to launch a "One True Champion" promotional campaign despite having bylaws that can make that declaration null and void. If all goes as planned over the next three weeks, TCU and Baylor will be declared co-champions of the Big 12.
According to the bylaws, The Big 12 does not break ties for the conference title. Each team receives a trophy, which makes it somewhat like YMCA soccer. In the event of a two-way tie, the representative for a major bowl game will be decided on the basis of head-to-head. Of course, the Bears would win this tiebreaker over the Frogs. But that had more meaning during the BCS era.
The committee has said each conference can submit its champion. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has the right to recommend Baylor as the league’s conference champion to the committee if he wanted, but he’s taking a more diplomatic approach. Why force the issue when you have two candidates who each have decent arguments for making the playoff? Well, at least that was the theory before TCU narrowly defeated the hapless Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence on Saturday. The Bears clearly have the upper-hand over the Frogs if they can win the rest of their games in somewhat impressive fashion. But Bowlsby has said that TCU and Baylor would be viewed as co-champions, plain and simple. He doesn’t want to play favorites and risk an uprising from one of the two church schools.
The Big 10 has a representative (Ohio State) breathing down the necks of both Baylor and TCU. If they win out, the commissioner of that conference will actually have "one true champion" to tout. And no matter who you support between Baylor and TCU, the Big 12 could end up looking pretty foolish.
The Buckeyes have a much worse loss than either the Frogs (at Baylor) or Bears (at West Virginia). Ohio State lost to a bad Virginia Tech team at home. I know Ohio State had to play a freshman quarterback in that game, but a lot of teams are forced to play short-handed (see Florida State vs. Clemson). Unfortunately, having a definitive conference champion might make it easier for the committee to choose the Buckeyes over the Big 12 co-champions.
Bowlsby clarified his point about the Big 12 having co-champions Monday during an appearance with Dale Hansen on Channel 8 (WFAA). He also recently pointed out this was the way Big 12 coaches wanted it to be. Something tells me that was the case before this new format was in place. Bowlsby displayed a lot of courage in speaking out for NCAA reform a few months ago, but he sounds pretty meek in his approach to the College Football Playoff. He said the conference won’t do anything to influence the committee.
That leaves Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson and Baylor’s Art Briles to run their own campaigns. So far, Patterson has been far more willing to lobby for his team than Briles. TCU still has to get past a resurgent Texas team in Austin on Thanksgiving. Baylor will have its hands full against a two-loss Kansas State team.
But if both teams win out, there’s a decent chance they could be on the outside looking in. Their commissioner should be doing everything to make sure that doesn’t happen. But right now he’s holding true to the bylaws.
It’s sad to see a man with so much influence choose not to take it out for a spin.