The Big 12 will resurrect its football championship game in 2017, and divisional play within the conference could return with it.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said last week the most likely scenario for the league moving forward will be to split into five-team divisions and maintain the league’s round-robin schedule.
What teams will be in each division? That’s a hot topic.
Here’s a radical proposal: rotate teams between divisions every few years to ensure balance.
The Big 12 could start with any split it prefers, but move teams around after a few years if one division becomes too strong.
Many remember upsets in past Big 12 championship games, but there were also several matchups that were painful to watch: Texas 70, Colorado 3 … Oklahoma 42, Colorado 3 … Oklahoma 62, Missouri 21. The final seven Big 12 championship games went to Oklahoma (five) and Texas (two). Things got so dull, some called for the league to shake up its divisions before conference realignment took place.
Well, the Big 12 could have that flexibility this time around.
The only reason to have permanent divisions with a geographic split is for unbalanced scheduling, such as the Big 12 used in the old days. But if everyone plays the same schedule, there’s nothing stopping West Virginia and Texas from becoming division rivals. That isn’t feasible in most conferences. It is in the Big 12.
The purpose of divisions with a round-robin schedule is to prevent a championship game rematch between teams that have recently played. Put five teams in one division, put five teams in the other division and forbid crossover scheduling after October. The championship game will still be a rematch, but not one fans watched a week earlier.
The fear with that setup is the league’s three best teams could all reside in the same division, creating a conference championship game between teams with records of 11-1 and 8-4, while two 10-2 teams are watching from home.
Staying with the current system and letting the league’s top two teams play in the championship would solve that problem. So would rotating teams between divisions.
I asked three Big 12 sources about the possibility of using a rotating divisional setup, and all three said it could work. One said it has already been discussed among conference decision-makers, along with many other division models.
Here’s how it could work. The league could select divisions based on the preseason poll, with teams picked first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth going into one division and teams picked second, fourth, sixth, eighth and tenth going into another.
They would be the Odd and Even divisions, but hopefully the Big 12 would come up with better names.
(Last year the divisions would have been: Odd – TCU, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State. Even – Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas. The championship game would have been a Bedlam rematch.)
You could rearrange the divisions based on the preseason poll every year or every few years.
Hate that idea? The league could also choose divisions based on the previous year’s standings, using the same Odd/Even setup.
(Last year the divisions would have been: Odd – Baylor, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas. Even – TCU, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Iowa State. Another Bedlam rematch.)
Hate that idea, too? Perhaps a selection committee could determine the divisions, with the goal of creating balance. Every few years, the committee’s selections would be subject to change.
Or, if you really want to get wild, the Big 12 could randomly select the divisions with a blind draw the way FIFA chooses groups for the World Cup. That could be fun, if not effective.
I have seen many possible permanent division lineups over the past few days, including North/South, East/West, Big Eight/SWC and the I-35 divider. They all make sense.
Personally, I like the Big Eight/SWC in which you put Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, K-State and Iowa State in one division, then Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU and West Virginia in the other. That seems balanced. (Last year’s title game would have been Oklahoma vs. TCU) Then again, it might be better to have Kansas and Iowa State in different divisions. Maybe switch one with Texas Tech.
The North/South split makes sense, because the teams are easily divided. Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma in the South. Oklahoma State, Kansas, K-State, Iowa State and West Virginia in the North. Would be easy for all to remember, and it would bring back the North/South division names. But those divisions don’t seem balanced at all.
A case could be made for and against practically every proposal.
It will be interesting to see what the conference ultimately decides. One thing is for sure: it will have plenty of possibilities to consider. Maybe even some that offer flexibility.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett