The Big 12 announced Friday that its conference championship game, which will return in 2017, will be between the top two teams in the league standings.
The league had been considering dividing the conference into two divisions, the winners of which would have faced each other in the conference championship game. Ultimately, though, the league decided that a guaranteed No. 1 against No. 2 matchup would be best for the team’s chances of making the College Football Playoff
“I would argue there will be no path more difficult than our champion’s,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement, “where it will have played every team in the Conference, faced at least one Autonomy Conference non-conference opponent, and then plays in our championship game. The guaranteed No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup will be a great game for our fans, and it’s hard to imagine a stronger position for a conference champion.”
The league hopes that a conference title game will improve the resume of whichever team wins the league title, thus making it more likely for the league to get a representative in the College Football Playoff. The Big 12 missed out on the playoff in 2014, but Oklahoma made it in as the No. 4 seed in 2015.
Because every Big 12 team plays every other team in league play, any conference championship game would be a rematch from earlier in the season. However, the conference believes a No. 1 vs No. 2 matchup will help ensure a strong resume for the champion.
A divisional setup might have allowed the winner of an inferior division to make it into the title game over a team with a better record, decreasing the value of the “13th data point.” If that inferior team were to pull off an upset and win the conference championship, that would have been even worse for the league.
The Big 12 began discussing re-introducing a conference championship game after co-champions No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 TCU were excluded from the 2014 playoff. The lack of a 13th game against another quality opponent, which all the other Power 5 conference title winners had, was believed to hurt both teams’ cases for inclusion.
When Nebraska and Colorado left the conference after the 2010 season, the league discontinued the title game since it no longer had the 12 teams required by the NCAA to have a conference championship game. Texas A&M and Missouri left for the SEC after 2011, to be replaced by TCU and West Virginia.
The NCAA approved legislation in January that would allow a conference with fewer than 12 teams to have a conference championship. In June, the Big 12 announced it was reinstating the title game.
Under the No. 1 vs. No. 2 format in 2014, Baylor and TCU would have had a rematch for the Big 12 crown. Last season, Oklahoma would have played Oklahoma State twice in a row to decide the conference title.