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Barnhouse: Big 12 an easy target after conference title game decision

James D. Smith/Icon Sportswire

Ain’t no punch line like a Big 12 punch line.

Let’s try a few.

Forget psychologically disadvantaged; the Big 12 is competitively disadvantaged.

For Halloween, the Big 12 is dressing up like a College Football Playoff team.

The conference that brought you the motto “One True Champion” now pivots and will tout “One True Division.”

The Big 12 announced Friday that with the return of a football championship game in 2017, the two teams involved will be the first- and second-place teams in the standings.

That official announcement wasn’t met with overwhelming support. ESPN reported that Big 12 coaches were 7-3 in favor of splitting into two five-team divisions. Twitter’s 140-character comedians treated the decision as kids at a birthday party treat a piñata.

In some cases, the derision is deserved. The Big 12 leadership rests largely with the 10 people, the school presidents, who know the least about college sports. That’s what led to the three-month national comedy tour billed as “Expansion: Are You Smarter Than A Big 12 President?”

The decision on matching the top two teams in the championship game, though, was made by the athletic directors. With 10 teams, the desire to maintain the round-robin schedule and perhaps no perfect way to create two five-team divisions, the ADs mirrored the current presidential election with a “lesser of two evils” decision.

In its 20-year history, the Big 12 has been consistent in its inability to see beyond the next crisis. It has consistently been reactive instead of proactive. Reacting to problems or making decisions under pressure often lead to decisions that can create questions and second guessers.

After shrinking to 10 teams, the CFP came about. Suddenly the term “13th data point” became part of the college football vocabulary. What most of the unwashed fans and media would refer to as a “13th game” (conference championship), the CFP elitists on the committee call a “13th data point.”

The Big 12 reaction was to bring back the championship game, which supplies a “13th data point” and more revenue (the “monetarily disadvantaged” Big 12 is searching for any loose change it can find). When the decision was announced in early June, most reaction was positive.

The devil being in the details, though, the choice to match first place versus runner-up creates potential problems, including a rematch of a late-season game and the potential of the Big 12’s “best” (first-place) team being knocked out of the CFP with a championship game loss.

The best part of the round-robin schedule with a championship game is that the team that wins the league and then beats the second-place team for a second time can tout that it has survived the toughest road in the Power Five.

Here’s how the Big 12 Championship Game would have unfolded had it been in place the last five seasons:

  • 2011: Oklahoma State vs. Kansas State; regular season, Oklahoma State defeated K-State, 52-45 on Nov. 5.
  • 2012: Kansas State vs. Oklahoma; regular season, Kansas State defeated Oklahoma, 24-19 on Sept. 22.
  • 2013: Baylor vs. Texas; regular season, Baylor defeated Texas, 30-10 on Dec. 7. (Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State tied for second with 7-2 records; UT would have played Baylor based on a tie breaker).
  • 2014: TCU vs. Baylor; regular season, Baylor defeated TCU, 61-58 on Oct. 11.
  • 2015: Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State; regular season, Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State, 58-23 on Nov. 28.

Predicting the future based on the past is a fool’s errand, and one of the reasons why Las Vegas continues to build mega-hotels/casinos. From its first season in 1996, the Big 12 played 15 championship games; 11 of those games had implications on the Bowl Championship Series. Five times the Big 12 lost a spot in the BCS title game thanks to a Big 12 Championship Game upset.

Going forward, there will be championship games in the Power Five conferences that will knock a team out of CFP contention. That’s inevitable.

When and if it happens in the Big 12 – and considering its buzzard’s luck, 2017 would be a likely opening pratfall – the league’s background of questionable decisions will make it a bigger and more obvious target. The jokes and the one liners will write themselves.

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