Let’s take a look into the imaginary world of where the Big 12, a conference with 10 teams who play everyone in the conference, had a championship game and could actually claim "one true champion." We're going to preface that though, by looking at how the 2010 regular season determined a conference champion for the Big 12.
2010 was the last year that the Big 12 had 12 teams and a conference championship. The divisions were split up between North and South. At the end of the season, Oklahoma played Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship 23-20 and were crowned conference champions. The divisions were split up as follows:
Nebraska, Division Champion/Co-champion and Championship participant
Missouri, Division Champion/Co-champion
Oklahoma, Division champion/co-champion, Championship participant and BCS representative as conference champion
Oklahoma State, Division champion/co-champion
Texas A&M, Division champion/co-champion
So, in looking at the standings from 2010, the North had two co-champions and the south had three (THREE!!!) co-champions. I’ll take a look at the north first and see how this shaped out.
On October 30 of that year, Nebraska beat Missouri 31-17. The next week they played Iowa State and it took overtime to fully get over the Cyclones at Jack Trice 31-30. They lost to A&M a couple weeks later in what had to be a thrilling game since it ended 9-6. Nebraska also went through the gauntlet of non-conference behemoths such as Western Kentucky, Idaho, Washington and South Dakota.
Missouri, on the other hand, despite losing to Nebraska, beat Texas A&M 30-9 two weeks before they played Nebraska, and shut out Iowa State 14-0 three weeks after that. Missouri’s non-conference schedule included Illinois, McNeese State, San Diego State and Miami (OH). Missouri’s losses came to Nebraska (31-17) and Texas Tech (24-17). Nebraska did not play Texas Tech.
These two teams are eerily similar, and you could argue that either could go to the Big 12 Championship. Missouri definitely has the better loss in Nebraska and they share the same record. Don’t forget about that common opponent of Texas A&M either. The non-conference schedules did not come into play. When it comes down to it though, who represented the North? It was the team who won the head-to-head over the course of the season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. This scenario sounds a little familiar, does it not?
The South had three co-champions; so let’s sort this one out as well. Oklahoma’s non-conference games were Utah State, Florida State, Air Force and Cincinnati. Their losses came to Missouri (36-27) and Texas A&M (33-19). Both were played away from the friendly confines of Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners that year also went on to beat Oklahoma State 47-41 in Stillwater.
Next up, Oklahoma State. We already mentioned their loss to Oklahoma, but they also lost to Nebraska 51-41 at home. Their non-conference games were against Washington State, Troy (a three point win at home), Tulsa and Louisiana Lafayette. Oklahoma State can also claim a win against Texas A&M by a score of 38-35 that was played in Stillwater.
Lastly, Texas A&M. A&M’s losses came to Oklahoma State and Arkansas (24-17). Their non-conference consisted of Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech, Florida International, and Arkansas. The Aggies beat both the North and South division champs of the Big 12 that year.
The tie was decided by who had the highest ranking in the BCS poll. That honor went to the Sooners, and they went on to beat up on the Connecticut Huskies 48-20. Can you imagine the committee trying to decipher a three-way tie in the Big 12 today? Especially when the precedent would be that their rankings would decide who would ultimately be decided the champion? Oh, oh no that is not right. All of them would be Big 12 Champions. And then every other team would also get a share of the Big 12 title, just for participation. Also, again, notice that non-conference opponents were not included at all at this point. They were not even looked upon by any more than just tune up games.
What is the common theme here? The common theme is that head to head matters and has always mattered. Go back and re-read the Nebraska-Missouri feud. Nebraska won, but Missouri had the better losses. So does this mean that Missouri is the better team? No, because they played and Nebraska lost. You can talk about game control and eye test as much as you want, but if that is the case then Florida State should not even be in the top 5. But Colby, Florida State just finds a way to win. That’s great for Florida State and that is something that should be admired in an era where so many teams are good enough to beat anybody, but the precedent is not winning, it is how you win. A win is not a win and a loss is not a loss. Each carries with it a specific weight. It might as well be like standardized testing where if you do not answer, you are not penalized. A team can just choose not to play the game and have the committee vote on who would have won. That way, the losing team is not penalized at all, and we can later just basically act like it never happened.
With that being said, what if the Big 12 still had divisions and a conference championship? Since it was does done by location before, it only makes sense that we can continue to do it that way. It would look as follows.
Kansas State, Division champion/co-champion
Baylor, Division champion/co-champion
TCU, Division champion/ co-champion
*Since Stillwater is more north than Norman, I put the Cowboys in the north to even things out.
Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado all fall from the North, and West Virginia is added in to replace them. Texas A&M is replaced by TCU in the South, and now we have a conference aligned with two divisions that will determine who plays for conference championship.
With the data presented from the 2010 Big 12 season, this one is pretty obvious to me. Baylor and TCU fall in the same division, so having a conference championship really means nothing as far as finally deciding which of the two teams is better. They have already played and would not face each other in the conference championship, because of how the divisions line up. There is no three-way tie, so the rankings should not come into effect. When all is said and done here, Baylor would play Kansas State for the outright Big 12 championship. That champion would then be the representative in the BCS if this was 2010, but since it is not, said winner should be the representative chosen by the Big 12 to represent the conference in the playoff. Any other scenario just does not make sense.
Would a conference championship help the Big 12? Sure. it would add closure to things, but even then you’ll have a team like A&M claim they won a share of the title in 2010. It also would not solve the debate between Baylor and TCU, because that already happened. If head-to-head is not going to be a tiebreaker anymore, then just announce that it is not important. That, or announce that it is important, there are just various other things that are much more important than it.
Judging by this, I’m looking forward to the Big 12 Championship this Saturday.