Adding a championship game offers few guarantees for Big 12

There is money to be made in a Big 12 title game -- roughly $30 million -- but that's the only benefit the conference can bank on from its most recent decision to add a championship game in 2017.

A title game doesn't guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoff (See: Pac-12 2015).

A title game doesn't mean it won't eliminate a team from the top four (See: Iowa 2015).

It means the Big 12's best team now has one more chance to impress the selection committee against a ranked opponent on the final weekend of the regular season -- without expanding. It helps level the playing field, now that the front-runners in every Power 5 conference have to survive a title game as part of their path to the playoff. It ushers the Big 12 into the playoff era, where the league title games are comparable to an unofficial quarterfinal round.

What it can't possibly do, though, is account for the human element of the 13 selection committee members or the fickle nature of the sport.

Ohio State can vouch that a spot in the CFP is as unpredictable as winning a national title with a third-string quarterback. The margin between No. 4 and No. 5 is as narrow as Oklahoma's 30-29 win over TCU last season, and as precarious as just about every game Florida State won in 2014.

For all of the combined doctorates the Big 12 university presidents have, a middle-schooler could figure out that it takes two things to crack the code into the top four: a conference title and a tough schedule. Nowhere in the CFP rules does it demand a title game -- and Oklahoma didn't need one last season to reach the semifinal.

"Oklahoma was one of the best four teams last year without a 13th game," said CFP executive director Bill Hancock. "No one can say what everybody has to do to get in the playoff each year. No one can accurately predict the future. It's still play a good schedule, win your games and you'll be in the hunt."

The Big 12's decision is further evidence of the power of the playoff. Would the conference have even considered reinstating its title game had Baylor not been the first program to get the No. 5 snub? If TCU hadn't dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in Year 1?

All of the Big 12 meetings over the past two years, all of the debates -- they've been driven in large part by a push to best position the conference for a spot in the playoff.

"The addition of a football championship game allows for a 13th data point for our teams under consideration for the College Football Playoff," Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in the league's statement.

It's all about the "13th data point" -- which can also be a dagger. In 1996, No. 3 Nebraska was bounced out of the national picture with a loss to Texas. In 1998, No. 2 Kansas State was stunned in double overtime by No. 10 Texas A&M.

ESPN.com's Max Olson wrote that the Big 12's national title contenders had a 6-5 record in the league title game, which ended in 2010 with a Sooners' win. Six of the 15 title games in league history were rematches of a regular-season game -- something Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was opposed to this spring.

"It would've been Oklahoma State and us playing the very next week, and we had just won by 35 points the week before," Stoops said in April, ultimately deferring to league presidents to make the best decision. "Does that make sense? It doesn't. When you're in a league that way, it just doesn't work."

In the Big 12's six title game rematches, the regular-season winner won four times. On five occasions, the lower-ranked team defeated a higher-ranked opponent.

It's now possible for the league's "one true champion," as advertised by its round-robin schedule, to be the runner-up.

This decision shouldn't come as a surprise.

The Big 12 pushed for legislation to deregulate conference championship games because it could make this move without taking the drastic measure of expansion.

One man -- Oklahoma president Dave Boren -- single-handedly turned the Big 12's narrative from merely title game talk to the total package, and the headlines were told through the prism of expansion speculation. The reality, though, was that this would be the most lucrative, logical first step to close the financial gap between the Big 12 and its Power 5 peers.

It's a good business move, but the Big 12's stock will always be measured by how good Texas and Oklahoma are.

Last season, the Sooners were one of the four best teams in the country -- and they could be again this fall without a title game.

"In the second year, we learned that you can overcome the lack of a 13th data point if you're good enough," Bowlsby said this spring, "but there isn't very much certainty in that."

It's a gamble -- but so are title games.