The Big 12 kicked off a discussion of the nature of conference championship games when it announced it would bring back a conference championship game despite having only 10 teams.
How the Big 12 will organize its title game is still up for debate. There is discussion the conference will split into divisions or could possibly just select the two best teams to play in the championship game. This, of course, is all an effort to stay relevant during championship weekend and place a team in the College Football Playoff.
The unique alignment of the Big 12 though has everyone beginning to rethink the conference championship process.
Is a divisional alignment still best? Does geographical divisions still split teams evenly competitively while protecting traditional rivalries? Is there a better way to determine a champion in those very lucrative championship games?
Since the last round of expansion, conferences have struggled with the best way to fairly schedule and balance divisions to find a true champion. The Big Ten tried a non-geographical approach but then quickly scrapped it when expanding to 14 teams. That did not sit well with Nebraska who sits opposite Michigan and Ohio State in the West Division and rarely sees those two power schools.
The 14-team expansions have not eased these concerns. Even in the SEC.
Teams may go near a decade without traveling to a conference school outside of its division. Somehow, being in a conference with a team does not mean a team plays them particularly often. Players will cycle through their schools without even playing all the teams in their conference once.
Perhaps a new conference alignment needs to be made.
The Big 12 discussions got Jason Kirk and Bill Connelly of SBNation thinking about this problem. Using the SEC as a model, they devised a new way to split up conferences — doing away with divisions and creating a more balanced schedule that still protects traditional rivalries.
Their plan would designate three teams for each conference member as a protected rival. The remaining five conference games would be a rotating group of teams that would interchange between even and odd years. In this method, each team would play every other team in the conference at least once every other year.
For instance, Alabama would play protected rivals Auburn, Tennessee and LSU every year. In even years, the Crimson Tide would play the Florida Gators, the Kentucky Wildcats, the Missouri Tigers, the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Texas A&M Aggies. In odd years, Alabama would play the other five teams — Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
The reason for this is so that the SEC teams play each other more often. As Kirk and Connelly write:
“Under the current format, former rivals Auburn and Florida haven’t played since 2011. People born on the day of that game will be in middle school the next time the Gators play at Jordan-Hare, in 2024. Newer SEC addition Texas A&M hasn’t played at Kentucky since 1953, and won’t do so again until 20-damn-25.”
That does seem a little ridiculous.
Without divisions too, the conference championship game would then be a straight 1-2 matchup. There would be no lopsided matchups like the SEC has seen in recent years with the power shifting to the SEC West.
The drawback, of course, is if the SEC has two teams in the running for the College Football Playoff, they would eliminate one of them in the conference championship game. That potential loss in revenue would hurt the SEC and the member schools.
It would create one heck of a game though.
There is no consideration on the table to change divisional alignments or the schedule format. This is all a dream at this point. Just idle talk for the offseason.