Bowlsby: Big 12 Needs A National Champion
By Bob Hertzel
For three years now, college football has conducted a championship to determine its national champion, and in two of those three years the Big 12’s only connection with the event was either through buying a ticket or watching on television.
Snubbed in two of the three years, the conference was deeply affected, for it views itself on a higher plateau than that, so much so that this year they have reinstituted a championship game — not, says Commissioner Bob Bowlsby — as a way to add revenue, but as a freeway to the championships.
And, Bowlsby emphasized as the conference held its annual Big 12 Football Media Days in the Dallas Cowboys’ magnificent facility at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, reaching the playoffs is hardly the ultimate objective.
“Make no mistake,” Bowlsby said. “It’s not about making the playoff. It’s about winning national championships. That’s what we want to do.”
And as he said that, it rang out across the building, the state of Texas and the nation — clearly heard in West Virginia for the commissioner of the Big 12 was saying having a good, competitive football team isn’t the goal.
Building a national championship team is and he expected every team in the conference to push in that direction … even if it seems completely a pipe dream.
The idea, you see, is that if every team in a conference is capable or, at least, pushing in the direction of building a National Championship, the conference will be hard to snub from the four-team field that makes up the playoff.
The league has cringed over the past couple of years as the perception of the Big 12 was that it was not of the quality of the other Power Five Conferences … that is was all flash on the offensive side, but short when it came to winning.
The SEC was the conference to whom everyone looked as the perfect football conference and, even now this year, it is the ACC first in most analysts minds, the SEC second, the Big Ten third and then the Big 12 and/or the Pac-12 picking up the pieces.
Bowlsby doesn’t like that — or agree with it — at all.
“You know, I think our perception is somewhat a product of not being in the playoff two out of the three years. I mean, that’s a really short window,” Bowlsby said. “As most of you remember, the ACC was, I believe, 2-13 in the BCS era, and now they’re on top of the heap.
“So I don’t — I really — it gets a little tiresome because I know we play at a very high level, and I know that top to bottom we’re the best in the country in terms of balance. And I know that the method by which we conduct our championships and conduct our regular season is the most difficult because you never miss anybody.”
When West Virginia and TCU joined the Big 12 it became a 10-member league. That allowed it to play a round-robin schedule where every team plays everyone else in the league and a true champion from the regular season was named.
It also put the conference in a position of not conducting a championship playoff game between division winners, which is a financial windfall, a television bonanza and an important point when it comes to naming the four semifinalists for the national playoffs as all four other major conferences have played the same weekend the playoff teams are announced.
“I know our guys are recruiting. I know they’re coaching them up. I think we’ve got a tremendous balance of quality veterans and quality new guys,” Bowlsby said. “I think it’s an easy target, and I think it’s a perception, not a reality. I think we play at an exceedingly high level, and I think over the 12 years of the playoff, you’ll see Big 12 teams in there.”
A lot of pressure was on the Big 12 to add that championship game to put it on the same level with other conferences and give it that extra chance to make an impression … yet, Bowlsby concedes, it’s a gamble, too.
There is much that can go wrong. You are guaranteed a rematch, with the round-robin schedule, so you easily could produce a situation where your league champion split games with the runner-up.
You run the risk of having a late-season rematch between teams that played the week or two weeks before.
Bowlsby isn’t worried about it.
“For the record, 33 of the championship games have been rematches,” Bowlsby said of other conferences. “So the rematch is not aberrational. It happens very regularly. And ours is going to be a rematch.
“But I can tell you that it was — the decision was made 100 percent on our ability to optimize the likelihood of getting a team into the CFP. The finances of it were — I don’t ever recall them being discussed,” Bowlsby continued. “I think our board was mindful that there was more revenue available because it was embedded in our contracts. We had anticipated that we might, at some point in time, add a championship game back.
“But the decision was made 100 percent based upon our ability to compete at the national level. And based — and we relied in large measure on our intuition and some data that we saw that indicated that playing a championship game and having that 13th data point would, in fact, deliver that advantage.”
So the challenge is before everyone in the Big 12. There are no excuses.
The league is set up to produce a team or maybe even two in a unique year to get into the College Football Playoff — and it’s expected national champions come out of the Big 12.