Back in June of 2015 the proposal to deregulate conference championship games advanced to the NCAA counsel for final vote. That final vote will take place this Wednesday, January 14th.
Originally proposed by the Big 12 and ACC conferences deregulation would allow any conference, specifically the Big 12, to hold a conference championship game with 10 teams. Right now the rule states conferences must have 12 teams in order to hold a championship game.
The Big 12 has long debated its plan of action regarding expansion, a conference championship, and the college football playoff. The debate started soon after the selection committee snubbed both Baylor and TCU in the initial college football playoff. It was eventually insinuated by committee chairman Jeff Long that the Big 12’s lack of a 13th data point (game) hurt both the Bears and Horned Frogs.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby soon after petitioned the NCAA to deregulate conference championship games allowing the Big 12 the option to play that 13th game without having to expand. However, Bowlsby did state that even with the option the conference may continue to hold off on implementing the game.
A conference championship game would yield more advantages than disadvantages for the Big 12. First and foremost member schools would see a multi-million dollar increase in their yearly payment due to a game whether the team was a participant or not. It would also give the conference that coveted 13th game. However, it could also hurt the conference. The Big 12 could essentially knock itself out of playoff contention if a lessor team were to win its championship game. For example; if a 9-3 Oklahoma were to defeat a 12-0 Baylor in the championship game both would presumably be out based off the late season loss by Baylor and the 9-3 record of the Sooners. While this is true for all conferences the Big 12 currently does not have that problem. This year would have seen an 11-1 Sooners play the 10-2 Cowboys in the Big 12 championship.
Initially the proposal was met favorably by fellow Power 5 conferences. However, in recent weeks SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany have backed off their support of the legislation.
This would leave the Big 12 in a precarious position. Deregulation would allow the Big 12 to keep the status quo in terms of members and its round robin schedule, something it has touted in the past two seasons Remember the slogan “One True Champion?” However, if it fails to pass the Big 12 will be forced to look into options it had once considered a last resort, expansion.
Despite it’s reluctance to expand the conference has been proactive in vetting possible candidates if its hand was forced according to numerous sources. The normal candidates have again surfaced, i.e., UConn, Cincinnati, Houston, BYU, Memphis, USF, UCF, and Colorado State. . Forced is a strong word though and with Oklahoma getting the nod into the playoffs this season the Big 12 may decide to wait longer before making any decisions if deregulation fails to pass.
The biggest problem with expansion would be the need to create divisions, something most schools within the Big 12 are against. West Virginia would inevitably lose out if this were the case. Yearly games against Oklahoma and/or Texas would be replaced with possible schools such as UConn or Memphis or Cincinnati.
Despite the Big 12’s reluctance to expand Bowlsby has admitted the lack of a championship game is a perceived disadvantage. How much of a disadvantage is yet to be known although a few games going in different directions such as Stanford vs Notre Dame this past season could have resulted in the Big 12 missing out on the playoffs a second straight year.
Pete Tramel has given the Big 12 a 70% chance of expansion if deregulation does not pass. He also stated that although the Big 1o and SEC will presumably be against deregulation; the PAC 12, ACC, and obviously the Big 12 will vote in favor of the legislation.
Former WVU AD Oliver Luck had been a proponent of expansion simply to give the Mountaineers a regional rival. That would presumably remain the case with Shane Lyons if a vote to expand was approved by the expansion committee.
Regardless of the outcome this Friday, the Big 12 will have a decision to make. And the health and stability of the conference may lie in the balance.