“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ . . . into the future.”
Those words were sung by Steve Miller on his massive hit “Fly Like An Eagle” back in the mid-70’s. And it could be a description of the Big 12 Conference today after it was left out of the College Football Playoff despite having at least one of its teams ranked ahead of one of the teams which did make it, Ohio State, for nearly the entire season. Many folks are thinking and saying that the league missed out because, unlike the four conferences which got teams into the initial event, the Big 12 does not have a championship game, but it’s not that. It’s because they didn’t have a champion.
The rules of the conference state that co-champions are recognized if two (or more) teams are tied for first place at the conclusion of the season. Logic would seem to dictate that if all teams in the conference play each other that the head-to-head winner would be the champ, but that isn’t formally spelled out in the conference handbook. And even though Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during Big 12 Media Day this past July that “a tiebreaker would be imposed” to determine a champion, the league did not impose one for the purposes of the committee to look at as they selected the four teams which would play for the college football national championship. So the committee, if they wanted to put a Big 12 team in the field, would have to make its own determination as whether to select TCU, which had a better strength of schedule including non-conference games, or Baylor, which beat TCU in league play. Both teams were 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the Big 12. The committee ended up choosing neither one, opting instead for Ohio State, which also had just one loss, albeit to a much worse team (Virginia Tech, and at home no less) than either TCU or Baylor lost to (and their losses came on the road). But Ohio State also won the Big Ten Championship Game over Wisconsin, as that conference has 14 teams and does not play a complete round robin schedule. Same goes for the Southeastern Conference, where Alabama pummeled Missouri in their championship game, and the Pac-12, where Oregon got revenge for its only loss by beating Arizona in the title tilt. The Atlantic Coast Conference also had a championship game, where Florida State got by Georgia Tech to complete a perfect regular season at 13-0. The Seminoles, in fact, have now won 27 straight games and are the defending national champions.
It turned out to be one of those weird situations where there was one undefeated team and five other teams with just one loss spread out over five conferences. Is that scenario going to happen very often? Likely not. But still, the Big 12 should have done a better job in preparing for such a scenario in this first year of a four team playoff. Bowlsby now says the conference will look at changing the champion selecting process, perhaps adding a championship game, although to do that they would have to expand to 12 teams as per NCAA regulations. He also said he “misspoke” when he made his comment about imposing a tiebreaker. Bowlsby has been the strongest proponent of keeping the Big 12 at ten teams, having true round robin competition in football and double round robin for basketball, which should in most cases reveal a true conference champion. And in basketball there is a post-season tournament for the league, as well as a much larger 68 team NCAA national tournament field, so there is plenty of room for that selection committee to include any teams which may tie for a conference season championship. But in football, as in the game itself, there is no margin for error. The Big 12 left itself open and the football playoff committee blew a hole right through it. Oh, and make no mistake about this – Ohio State has a much larger national profile than either TCU or Baylor. Don’t think for one second that wasn’t a factor in the committee decision because it had to be, even if they would never say it. And ESPN certainly wants the biggest names possible, assuming there is some wiggle room involved in selecting teams. The committee would probably still be voting if one of the Big 12 c0-champs was Texas or Oklahoma.
Time is indeed slipping into the future and right now the Big 12 is not a part of it. The playoff committee has set a precedent for the one league which doesn’t have a championship game, essentially saying that it either needs to get one, or at least make clear who the conference champion is if a tie occurs. Bowlsby, who was generally considered an excellent administrator when he was an athletic director (he also served as head of the basketball selection committee, so he must have had some kind of clue as to how this would go), somehow got caught unprepared. Based on his immediate reaction to what happened, he still isn’t prepared. And if the Big 12 doesn’t make things right, one way or another, they well may not be a part of the future – either of the football playoff or college athletics in general. The schools won’t put up with it – there is too much prestige involved for the teams, and too much money involved for the universities. And, to include one more musical reference, it was Bob Dylan who once said “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” He got that one right. Maybe the Big 12 has the wrong Bob as its commissioner.