As the Big 12 turns: Cooler heads prevail in title game discussion

PHOENIX -- The Big 12 was supposed to overreact.

It’s simple, really. We have a four-team College Football Playoff and five major conferences. At least one of them will be guaranteed a gut punch every year.

And with stakes this high, that first conference was guaranteed to overreact in some fashion, responding not just with sour grapes but with a desire for immediate changes.

In Year 1, it was the Big 12’s turn. And for a few days last week, it looked like Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was going to fall for it. When he emerged from the CFP meetings in Irving, Texas, espousing the necessity of a conference title game, it was hard not to take the warning shot seriously.

But he and the rest of the Big 12’s decision-makers successfully talked themselves away from the ledge during their spring meetings. They walked out of the Arizona Biltmore on Wednesday content with a new tiebreaker system and renewed confidence that the Big 12 will get it right in Year 2.

Bowlsby’s 180-degree shift on the title game issue raised eyebrows, in large part because the usually shrewd, measured commissioner has never been one to go loose cannon in his dealings. Did he simply overreact?

“Maybe I did,” Bowlsby said. “I’m not immune to that. I think that I said we would have a lot of discussion about it.”

Maybe his reaction came out of frustration to the CFP committee changing its tune on the value of the title games and the so-called 13th data point. Bowlsby received reassurance from playoff officials a year ago that the Big 12’s scheduling format was just fine. The committee, evidently, did not agree.

The problem is, there’s zero precedent. As TCU coach Gary Patterson put it: “We don’t know if last year wasn’t an anomaly.”

Which begs a question that Bowlsby, the ADs and the coaches had to have collectively pondered during their two-day session: Why are we doing this?

You can’t make a sweeping change on one year of data, especially when that data is basically extreme in nature.

A Big 12 team makes the playoff if Wisconsin puts up a fight in the Big Ten title game and loses by 7-10 points. The 59-point margin and the injection of ‘wow’ that Cardale Jones provided pushed Ohio State over the top in the battle for No. 4. That was an incredibly rare feat, achieved against a team whose coach bailed for another job four days later. That’s one perfect storm.

If Florida State faltered and Wisconsin showed up to play, the Big 12 sends two to the playoff and the ACC and Big Ten are the ones scrambling and nervously trying to figure out if they’re the disadvantaged ones.

“I think a lot of it came down to the games didn’t go our way,” Baylor AD Ian McCaw said. “Really, all you can do is position yourself to get teams in the playoff and then it’s going to come down to outcomes of games, many of which you have no control over.

“There’s no precedent, there’s no predictability and it comes down to games, and that’s why it’s so exciting for the American public and football fans.”

We’ll revisit this topic down the road, though, once the Big 12 achieves deregulation to stage a title. Bowlsby said he’s experienced zero push-back on that topic and has no reason to believe the NCAA won’t approve it soon.

“We want all options on the table in front of us,” Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt said. “In the short term, we believe we’re in the right place.”

The door should get unlocked within the next year, but nobody is ready to barge through it. Yes, a few coaches strongly feel that the Big 12 got burned last year by having no championship game. But the assembly of ADs in Phoenix this week made the call, and they recognize the folly in chasing a plan that offers no guarantees of helping anyone’s cause.

Back in December, right after the fateful playoff snub, the Big 12 needed to focus on fixing the Big 12. Chasing an eight-team playoff wasn’t going to achieve anything. The conference had to confront its own policies, plans and path to the playoff and do some real rethinking.