Big 12’s Big Problems Could Impact Pac-12

bob bowlsby from video

Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby wishes someone would have told him ahead of time that his conference would be punished for not having a championship game. It’s a sad fact of life: Some things you just have to figure out for yourself, and that one shouldn’t have been too difficult. The truth is, the Big 12 tried to game the system from the start, and in the end nobody bought it. But when it comes to problems in the Big 12, no championship game is just the tip of the iceberg. The big problems of the Big 12 and how they could impact the Pac-12 are the subjects of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1. Gaming the System. The Big 12’s problems did not begin with the failure to have a championship game, but with a pedestrian showing in nonconference games. The conference did go 22-8 against nonconference foes, but the record against Power 5 opponents was a ho-hum 4-6, and its “signature” win was TCU over Minnesota. While Minnesota did squeak in at No. 25 in the final Playoff Committee’s Poll, it finished out of the money in the AP and Coaches Polls.

Meanwhile, the conference posted wins over the likes of SMU, Northwestern State, Toledo, Stephen F. Austin, Texas El Paso, Texas San Antonio, North Texas, Towson, Samford, SE Missouri State, Central Arkansas, Buffalo … you get the picture. The conference did little to help itself with its scheduling of nonconference games, and when Big 12 teams did play tough nonconference teams — No. 25 Minnesota aside — they lost.

The Horned Frogs stomping of Iowa State instead of winning a championship game didnt impress the judges.

from video

The Horned Frogs’ stomping of Iowa State (2-10) instead of winning a championship game didn’t impress the judges.

Still, with that 22-8 nonconference record, the Big 12 tried to sell itself as powerful and deep – and the only conference where each team had to play every single one of the many “tough” teams in the league. But somehow the committee didn’t buy the Big 12’s idea that the ninth conference game against 3-9 Kansas or 2-10 Iowa State carried quite the weight as winning a conference championship game. Somebody should have told the Big 12.

The final straw in gaming the system, though, came when the conference declared Baylor and TCU as co-champions, a transparent attempt to get two teams into the final four. If two out of four of Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State and Florida State hadn’t taken care of business in their championship games, it just might have worked. But of course, all but Florida State absolutely dominated, and Florida State was undefeated. With no marquee nonconference win and no championship game, the Big 12 didn’t stand a chance.

2. Instability. The bigger problem behind the Big 12 is that it has all the instability of a teenage romance, which it just happens to be. The ACC and the Pac-12 are over 50 years old. The SEC just turned 82 and the B1G is a ripe old 118. The Big 12 just turned 18, a full century younger than the B1G. While the other conferences are happily married and adopting new family members from time to time, the Big 12 is still dating. Its relationship didn’t start until 1996, when what was left of the Southwest Conference and what was left of the Big 8 got together.

Colorado left the Big 12 to chase a dream.

Craig Strobeck

Colorado left the Big 12 to chase a dream.

Since then, charter members Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A & M have all split for more stable ground. And it was only a few years ago that the entire relationship threatened to blow up when four members, including flagships Texas and Oklahoma, flirted with joining what at the time was the Pac-10.

The mass bolt to the Pac didn’t happen, and TCU and West Virginia took up half the slack left by the departure of the four charter members, bringing the numerically-challenged conference back up to ten schools. But ten members is not enough, as NCAA rules require twelve members to have a conference championship game. And — it seems — that, along with beating anybody who is anybody in nonconference games, is important in getting a team into the final four.

3. Solutions to the Big 12’s Big Problems. Solutions could impact the Pac-12 in a number of ways. The obvious answer for the Big 12 is to add two teams and have a championship game. This could lead to an overlapping of Pac-12 and Big 12 territory, because the idea of coming west and picking up Boise State and BYU has been mentioned. But stretching a conference geographically from Idaho to West Virginia doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. Cincinnati and Houston are more logical choices geographically, and no doubt would add more television sets to the conference’s viewing area.

TCUs Gary Patterson -- not happy about being left out.

from video

TCU’s Gary Patterson — not happy about being left out.

The conference might also consider asking its member teams to trade in a few Conference USA and Division I-AA games for, say, some of those Pac-12 games like Kansas State backed out of a few years ago when it de-scheduled Oregon. So in the future, the Pac-12 may see more games with Big 12 schools and fewer I-AA clashes, which would make for some better early season games.

A third possibility is that the conference may break up as it nearly did a few years ago, with the stronger members joining the four senior conferences and the others having to settle for mid-major status. It would not take too many years of being snubbed for a berth in the final four to cause those members with high ambitions to bolt, given the opportunity. If this happens, we will have four super conferences. Four super conferences for four playoff spots — what a novel idea.

Pressure would be brought upon the Pac-12 to expand, either by taking in Big 12 members, or by considering the addition of at least four more western schools. The choices of western schools are fairly limited. BYU, Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State probably all have the base to make the jump in football, but of course there are other considerations: travel convenience and cost, other sports, academics, and how many television sets a community can add to the overall package. But taking in current Big-12 schools would certainly stretch the “Pacific” element of the Pacific-(insert number here) Conference. There’s not a lot of rain that falls on Oklahoma and Texas (or Boulder, Colorado for that matter) that makes its way to the Pacific Ocean.

At this point, the only certainty is the uncertainty. In the world of mating, the saying is “Two’s company, three’s a crowd.” In the case of the football playoff, it’s “Four’s company, five’s a crowd.” Neither is a recipe for long-term success.

Top photo from video

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with FishDuck.com. Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • mikefoxtrottango

    Houston wouldn’t add television sets. They really don’t have a fanbase to speak of as most Houstonians follow the larger football programs in the state. Houston gets about as much coverage as Rice — which is essentially none. Walk across the UH campus and you’ll see a student body wearing the colors of other schools.

    • Coogs

      That’s a bold face lie. Have you visited university of Houston lately ?

    • tomT

      Houston is a sleeping giant. Put them in P12 or B12 and see
      what happens. Only in SWC (old Southwest Conference) with
      Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Baylor, Arkansas from 1976-1996
      and won 4 Football titles and went to 3 Final Fours in basketball in
      20 years. 40k students, new football stadium and largest metropolitan area in the South.
      P12 would LOVE the Texas exposure once they had it!

      • Ben Johnson

        Houston has no TV market and can’t hold onto a coach. Why is that? They don’t have the money. They are a stepping stool to other, more lucrative paying destinations. That is why the last 2-3 coaches bounced, among other things. Embrace it or live in denial, your choice.

        • Ken V

          Damn tea sippers have no clue.

          • Ben Johnson

            I state facts, you state nothing.

    • Pearland1

      A&M and UH are the top schools in Houston and the SEC is bigger then the BIG 12 in Houston and East Texas. Nobody cares about about the Big 12 schools in Houston except maybe for Texas but they suck.

    • JAH01

      Not a true statement at all. Walk across campus and you will see a sea of red. You obviously have not been to the UH campus in many years. Things have changed a great deal. Wake up before the world passes you by. Do a little research before you make ignorant statements.

      • Ben Johnson

        It is obvious that you are clueless. No one is trying to remake the old SWC. Houston has ZERO TV market. It doesn’t matter if a sea of red is at the UH campus if they bring no TV market with them. The B12 has stated, numerous times, that they are not going to decrease the revenue pie by bringing in a school like UH.

        Denying that is embracing stupidity.

      • Ben Johnson

        Houston has ZERO TV market. It doesn’t matter if a sea of red is at
        the UH campus if they bring no TV market with them. The B12 has stated,
        numerous times, that they are not going to decrease the revenue pie by
        bringing in a school like UH.

    • Brian Smith

      UH would be a poor addition to the P12 or the B12. They have no TV market, which is what the B12 seeks, at least. Their fan support is pedestrian (TCU’s is bad, why bring in another team with bad fan support?) and they are basically a commuter school. But the main thing is the TV market share. The B12 was already told that none of the existing Texas schools would add to the revenue pie if they joined…

  • hokieduck

    Well written, Mike.

    Even though it would stretch the conference geographically, I think that taking Boise State is the way to go. They have earned the right to compete in a Power5 Conference. I would then take Colorado State as the closest regional member school worth taking.

  • Jon Sousa

    One option would be to combine all teams into 4 conferences (PAC-32). Two rounds of conference championships and then two rounds of nationals. That way the Boise States of the world have a chance… they just have to win their division, which, of course, will have at least 5 powerful teams.

  • NJ Duck

    There isn’t going to be full scale realignment in Big12 because of missing one year. For starters, if TCU had held on vs Baylor, they’d be in the Final Four, and as yo point out, a single upset on championship weekend and a BIG12 team is in. Give this a couple of years. Pac 12 is never taking Fresno, San Diego St or Boise – for academic, other sports and recruiting reasons, and while the committee sent a clear message teams need to upgrade their non-conf schedules (are you listening Baylor?), it was less clear a championship game is a must. (Big12 Championship game upsets – thin Kansas St over Texas a while back – cost the leave a shot at a a NC slot).

    • Mike Merrell

      NJ Duck — as well as the rest of you — thanks for reading and commenting. This whole idea of four playoff spots for five conferences (plus possibly but not likely mid-majors, and wild-card Notre Dame in a given year) is certainly set up to stir controversy, and inevitably will lead to changes.

      I agree that a full scale realignment of the Big 12 because of missing one year would be a surprise. I don’t believe for a minute though that conference realignment is all behind us — and the Big 12 is the least stable of the Power 5 by far. One factor I didn’t mention in my article is Texas; e.g., when I’m channel surfing I find the Pac-12 Network, the SEC Network, the B1G Network. I don’t ever see a Big 12 Network, but I do see a Longhorn Network — hardly a “we’re in this together” sort of thing.

      Had Texas been less [put your own word in here] — it, along with a few other schools, would probably be in the Pac by now, and its domineering could still be the downfall of the Big 12.

      Another destabilizing factor is money — the arms race, “full cost” scholarships, which brings Title IX into the picture, etc. I will not be surprised if this splits I-A into two divisions — the haves and the have nots — and if this happens the landscape could be seriously rewritten.

      And what would happen if the NCAA — or the big conferences acting on their own — decided that there will be four major conferences, each with a minimum of 16 teams? That the present mid-majors can just do their own thing since they can’t afford to play with the money conferences? Yes, it’s a big what-if, but it’s not out of the question, as some of the groundwork for has been moving into place, primarily the four-team playoff (for five conferences?), and the division of I-A on the basis of budget capacities.

      The only thing holding the four super conference concept from coming into play at this point is the Big 12. If it splits up, all of the power conferences besides the Pac will be at 16 or more members (They’re already at 14.), with additions from the Big 12 fallout. Would the other conferences let the Pac stay at 12? And if the Pac didn’t get Big 12 members, who is left?

      Yes, it’s all a bunch of “what-if.” But one “what-if” or another is going to happen, even if it’s the least likely possibility that things stay as they are. As I say, the only certainty is the uncertainty.

    • Brian Smith

      I disagree on Baylor’s OOC scheduling. The committee had no problem putting Mississippi State, with its 4 OOC creampuffs at #1 until it lost. In fact, MSU went from 32nd to #1 after playing 3 SEC games. That is all it took. By that fact, it appears that the SEC gets the benefit of the doubt and everyone else has to go above and beyond.

  • ORLostGuy

    I’ve shared my idea of a power conference structure on several sites to solve the issues of rankings, perceived biases, unbalanced scheduling, and pointedly the concept of determining an uncontested College Football Champion on the field of play . Below are the basics of the Power 4 Conference approach that I would present.

    I acknowledge that the idea of certain teams realigning and others being dropped from their current conference and even more dropped out of the 4 Power Conference structure would be a massive undertaking. But in the end, the result would be a true College Football Champion.

    THE 4 POWER CONFERENCE SCENERIO:
    Super Conference Play Outline (Creating the Balanced Schedule):
    – 4 conferences / 16 teams with 2 divisions of 8 teams / 64 teams total.
    – 7 Inter-Division Games
    – 4 Inter-Conference Games (Rotate 4 different teams each year Home/Away).
    – 2 Non-Conference Games: Scheduled before conference games begin. MUST have at least one game against Power Conference team).
    – 1 Conference Championship Game
    – 4 Team Playoff. (Conference Champions qualify. Drawing determines seeding. Example = #1 @ home vs. #4, and #2 @ home vs. #3).
    – Semi-Playoffs and Championship Game rotates sites.
    -Conference Championship Game played First Weekend of December.
    -Semi Playoffs played third weekend of December.
    -National Championship Game played on New Year’s Day.
    – Non playoff teams qualify for Bowl games based on rankings and invites, which include non-power conference teams.
    -Maximum amount of games possible is 16 if you play into National Championship game.

    THE 4 POWER CONFERENCES:
    PACWEST CONFERENCE
    Pacific Division:
    California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State.
    West Division:
    Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado (or BYU), Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, and Utah.

    SEC CONFERENCE
    West Division:
    Arkansas, Baylor, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, Texas A&M, and TCU.
    East Division:
    Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt.

    BIG 16 CONFERENCE
    West Division:
    Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.
    East Division:
    Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, and Purdue.

    ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
    Atlantic Division:
    Boston College, Clemson, Louisville, Maryland, NC State, Pitt, Syracuse, and Wake Forest.

    • Mike Merrell

      ORLost — Makes perfect sense to me. No beauty contests, the entire thing is settled on the field. Win your division, win your conference championship, then go from there, with only yourself or maybe PacWest refs to blame if you don’t. Let the mid-majors have their own championship. I could see the possibility of a tweak here or there to what you propose, but — darn — you nailed it.

      I think your Big 16 would still call themselves the Big 10, but that would be their problem. As for the Pac, I kind of favor Surf and Turf as the divisions, but I’m sure I’d be outvoted even if I had a vote.

      What a well thought out and detailed plan. Are you listening, NCAA?

      • ORLostGuy

        Mike,
        Thank you for the positive feedback. I’ve had this outline since around 2010. The biggest hurdle would be saying who’s in and who’s out of the four power conferences. Can you imagine the lobbying and outright fighting??? It could get ugly.

        And yes the Big 10 doesn’t seem to really be aware of their number of teams in their conference. And I know there is actually already a PacWest conference but the new power conference can buy the rights to the name. The way the divisions would align I think it’s the perfect name.

        So who do I contact to get this thing rolling??? *Grin*

  • Brian Smith

    Some interesting points for sure. However the fix is a lot more simple:

    Have a real playoff (6 teams) where each P5 conference champ gets invited. Have an at-large from a smaller conference.

    • Phil

      They will never do it cause that makes sense you have to have stupid idea that only benefits a few to work in the NCAA

  • Phil

    Doesn’t division 2 have their own plus 4 team playoff? Maybe division 1 needs to take a page out of their playbook