New league offers challenges, opportunity

For the first time in the 15-year history of the Big 12, the conference season won't end with a championship game. The league, now at 10 teams without Nebraska and Colorado, faces an uncertain future.

What is certain, however, is things are changing and the remaining teams will have to adjust.

"Most coaches would agree that there will be more teams that have 7-5 records and 8-4s than teams that have had your 9-3 and 10-2s, because you’re adding a league game," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

His Cowboys won nine games in 2008 and 2009 before bagging a school-record 11 wins in 2010. Certainly he'd like to see more of those double-digit-win seasons than average years of 7-5, but being a former South team may allow them to do it.

He'll add more North teams to his schedule in the new round-robin format. Former North teams like Missouri or Kansas State, however, now will face Oklahoma and Texas every season. Before they had to play them once or even not at all.

Four former South teams could debut in the Top 25 in 2011. Missouri looks like the only North team that could accomplish the feat.

"Inside the league, I think it’s all equal now because we play each other. You always have the controversy of South played this or North didn’t play this, vice versa," Gundy said. "Well, now, everybody plays."

Without Nebraska, the league as a whole is weaker, but the lack of a title game could mean an easier road to the national championship, where Big 12 teams (Texas and Oklahoma, who both remain in the league) have appeared in five of the past eight games.

"If you make it out of our league with, let’s say one loss, you still have a chance," Gundy said. "This year we had two schools who didn’t lose any games, but there have been a number of schools to come out of our league with one loss and a chance to play for the whole thing."

The lack of a title game means finishing the season with one loss gets easier. Considering Oklahoma's consistently difficult nonconference schedule and Texas' recent efforts to strengthen its own, including adding a series against USC, only a catastrophic, unforeseen drop in league strength would result in a likely snub in the title game with a convincing résumé.

In the long run, without a title game, that could produce a financial benefit.

"The benefits of the league will be much greater financially than if you were to have a team in a [Big 12] championship game and each school gets around $750,000 and somebody gets knocked out of the championship game," Gundy said. "From a monetary standpoint, the conference would lose."

So for now, and at least for the foreseeable future, this is the new world in which the Big 12 operates. Will the championship ever return? The league's coaches have opposed the game since its inception, but their preference could be ignored if future expansion becomes necessary.

Within three years, Gundy believes that will be the case. Between the league's near breakup and Texas' recent $300 million deal to form its own television network, the changes this year could be just the first of many.

"If schools still feel like they can gain an edge in a certain area, they’ll try to parlay where they’re at into something that could be bigger or better, based on television revenue," Gundy said. "Look at the way the trend is going. I don’t know what it is, I’d just bet that within three years, we’re going to see more change."