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Big 12 Tiebreaker & Sugar Bowl Bid Procedures Explained

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Bringing some clarity to the confusion about the Sugar Bowl bid and the Big 12 Tiebreaker Procedures

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There’s been a lot of discussion and some confusion about the bowl selection procedures and where Baylor will land in the bowl picking priority given the various scenarios. Much of it has to do with the fact that the Big 12, yet again, has a logjam. Mercifully for the conference, the logjam is at the second place position and not at the very top. Your Big 12 Champions and likely representative in the College Football Playoff are the Oklahoma Sooners. Congrats and good luck to the Sooners; may they represent the Big 12 well in the Playoff should they be selected (they will). But what happens to the rest of us? Well, let’s take a look at the top half of the Big 12 table (conference records in parentheses):

1. Oklahoma Sooners (8-1)
T-2. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-2)
T-2. TCU Horned Frogs (7-2)
4. Baylor Bears (6-2)
5. West Virginia Mountaineers (4-4)

First thing to point out: Baylor is currently 4th in the conference because they have a game in hand - this Saturday against Texas. A victory against Texas secures a three-way tie for second place in the Big 12. None of this matters unless the Bears beat the Longhorns. We recognize this. If you want to scream about tapping the breaks and focusing on Texas, I have two things to say in response: 1) We who write this blog and comment on it do not play the games. Our focus level on Texas is wholly irrelevant to the team’s preparedness for Saturday’s game with Texas; and 2) If you don’t want to read it, click the back button on your browser and head to another post.

Eliminating Confusion

In examining the selection procedures this morning, I personally got bogged down in the ambiguous language of the Bowl Selection Procedures and I'm pretty sure other folks are too. Found right here, a couple of different paragraphs that are ambiguously worded seem to muddy the waters. Two paragraphs in particular are causing the confusion, it seems:

Big 12 CFP Contract Bowl Qualifier
The Big 12 champion will earn the Conference’s automatic berth for its CFP contract bowl slot. If one or more teams tie for the Big 12 championship, the Conference’s tiebreaker procedure will be used to determine the Big 12 designated team.

Additional Big 12 Teams in the CFP
If a Big 12 team(s) is rated in the top four of the CFP, it will play in one of the semifinals. This does not affect the Big 12 designee being placed in a CFP New Year’s Bowl if it is not one of the top four teams. There is not a limit on the number of teams from one conference that can be placed in CFP bowls. Additional Big 12 teams may be selected for other CFP New Year’s bowls based on their ranking in the final CFP Poll.

The first paragraph seems to indicate that we use the conference champion tiebreaker procedures to determine the Big 12's representative in the Sugar Bowl. The problem is, it only talks about determining a conference champion, not what happens in the event of a tie for second place. The second paragraph adds confusion by indicating that if the Big 12 champion goes to the CFP, additional teams will be added based on their final CFP ranking. However, this is talking about a 2014 TCU-type situation, where Baylor would have taken the Big 12 representative spot in the contract bowl game (which would have been the Sugar, had it not been a Semifinal location) according to the procedures, but TCU was high enough in the rankings to earn a spot in a New Years Six bowl. The language here is ambiguous; but fortunately, we gain clarity elsewhere.

Thanks to Heath Nielsen and others on Twitter, we know that selection for the Big 12's representative to the Sugar Bowl will, in fact, use Big 12 tiebreaker procedures. The clearest message of what happens comes from the Big 12 website in an article published at the beginning of the season. The last paragraph spells it out clearly:

In the event the Big 12 champion is selected for a CFP semifinal, the second-place finisher would be the Sugar Bowl representative. If there is a tie for second place, the Big 12 tiebreaker procedure would be used to break the tie to determine the Sugar Bowl representative (if the champion is selected to a CFP semifinal).

As I mentioned, we've had Heath and others confirming the information above: Big 12 tiebreakers will control what happens to the Sugar Bowl bid.

Tim O'Donnell also had another tweet that depicts the language that I quote above.

So, we head to the tiebreaker procedures.

Big 12 Tiebreaker Rules

Those are located here on the Big 12’s website. When you have a three-way (or greater) tie to be broken, there’s a multi-step process of elimination that occurs. Since we’re facing a real world scenario, I’ll take you through each step individually with the results. But first, here’s some of the most important language:

If three or more teams are tied, steps 1 through 4 will be followed until a determination is made. Once a team has been eliminated from a multi-team comparison, it is dropped from further comparisons. If only two teams remain tied after any step, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the Champion.

(I added the emphasis.) So, we follow the procedures until there are only two teams left. Once you get down to two teams, head-to-head reigns. Got it? Cool. Let’s move to the first step.

1. The conference records of the three or more teams will be compared against each other.

No help whatsoever. Again, if Baylor beats Texas, then Baylor, OSU and TCU will all be 7–2 in-conference. We get no clarity from step 1. Let’s check out Step 2.

2. The conference records of the three or more teams will be compared against the next highest placed team(s) in the conference (4, 5 and 6….).

a. When comparing against the next highest placed teams, a two-way tie among the next highest placed teams will be broken by head-to-head before the comparison begins.
b. If more than a two-way tie exists among the next highest placed teams, record against the collective tied teams as a group will be used.

In this instance, we’d be comparing the records of Baylor, OSU and TCU against West Virginia (2a and b don't matter). We get no clarity here, either, since everyone beat WVU. All three teams lost to OU and each other. So, no additional help. Let’s move on to Step 3.

3. Scoring differential among the tied teams. The team with the lowest difference between points scored and points allowed in games vs. the tied teams are eliminated from consideration.

We’re looking only at the scoring differential of the games between the three tied teams. Baylor beat OSU by 10 and lost by 7 to TCU; the Bears’ scoring differential is +3. OSU’s scoring differential is +10 (beat TCU by 20, lost to us by 10). Thus, TCU’s scoring differential is –13. We now eliminate TCU from consideration. Here’s where there seemed to be some confusion. Some seemed to believe that point differential goes ahead and determines the final breakdown, but that’s not the case, as I mentioned above.

Now that we’re down to two teams, we stop using the 4-step process (Step 4 isn’t required in our scenario) and look at the head-to-head matchup between Baylor and OSU. Baylor beat OSU in Stillwater.

Under the Big 12 Conference tiebreaker procedures, Baylor would be considered the second place team for the purposes of determining who gets the Sugar Bowl bid.

Anybody have any questions?