Just a couple of years back, it looked like the Big 12 would be dismantled by conference realignment, not the Big East (or whatever the remaining scraps of the Big East are going to be called).
The conference lost two of its cornerstone programs in Nebraska and Texas A&M, to the Big Ten and SEC, respectively. Further, Mizzou joined the Aggies in heading south, while Colorado bore due west for the Pac-12. Luckily, and seemingly at the 11th Hour, the Big 12 managed to keep Texas and Oklahoma on board.
But the league that had been one of the most historically and competitively viable over the course of decades had shrank from 14 to 10 schools. The name had never been viable, but now the league had lost something very significant in terms of its branding: A conference championship game.
From 1996 until 2010, the Big 12 had held a title game between the winner of the North and South divisions. The games were held in a neutral location, and stops included Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Reliant Stadium in Houston and most recently Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. Oklahoma had appeared in a league-high eight championship games, winning seven. Nebraska had appeared in six but had only won two. Texas had won three.
Despite Colorado’s recent tumble into the dumpster, the Buffaloes made four appearances in the game in the five years between 2001 and 2005, beating Texas in 2001.
Once the league shrank from 14 to its current 10 teams, the Big 12 was no longer allowed to hold a championship game. NCAA bylaws stipulate that a conference must have at least 12 teams to host a game — thus the Big Ten’s mad scramble to add Nebraska and the Pac-12’s for Colorado to move up to the legal threshold.
There have been rumblings of commissioner Bob Bowlsby petitioning the NCAA for a league title game despite only having 10 teams.
However, recently, Bowlsby crunched the numbers. As great as these games are for television advertising dollars (or seem to be), he pointed out that, by and large, the conference championship games of every league save for the SEC have been under-the-radar disappointments at best and overwhelming failures at worst.
“Would we go back to a conference championship game?” Bowlsby asked Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. “Take a look at the attendance on the conference championship games this year and take a look at the TV ratings. They aren’t the kind of things that are going to invite you to take that up as a new business proposition.”
Tramel points out that with the exception of the SEC, most conferences have trouble drawing fans to their championship games. “In 2012, the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis matching Wisconsin and Nebraska drew 41,260,” he writes. “The ACC title game in Charlotte, N.C., matching Florida State and Georgia Tech drew an announced crowd of 64,778 to 73,778-seat Bank of America Stadium, but eight sections of the stadium were tarped off, tickets were reported being sold for $2-4 and ESPN estimated a crowd no bigger than 30,000. And the Pac-12 title game, played at Stanford Stadium and matching Stanford and UCLA, drew just 31,622.”
That’s not good.
Oklahoma and Kansas State tied for the conference championship in 2012, but quarterback Collin Klein’s Wildcats hoisted the hardware after beating the Sooners in Norman. So, yes, while watching Little Manhattan’s finest first take home the trophies and then get crushed by Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl had to be disappointing for Boomer fans who would have loved to have taken one more shot at the title.
However, those fans should not be getting their hopes up for a game anytime soon.
From the looks of it, that might just be a good thing.
What do you think? Should the Big 12 expand and add a game, or leave the round-robin schedule as is? Sound off in the comments below!