The NCAA will vote in mid-January on whether a ten member conference can hold a football championship game. The Big 12 is watching the developments intently, if the NCAA votes down a ten member championship,does the conference consider expansion or hold steady with a ten team league. Does the league view a championship game as a positive development or just another way to risk inclusion in the playoff?
Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is non-committal on either issue at this point, awaiting the NCAA’s decision, though he did say that the lack of a title game is a disadvantage for the conference. He may be right, but then again, the conference was ever so close to landing two teams in the 2014 playoff before the selection committee froze the Big 12 out. Some argued that the lack of a title game hurt the conferences chances in 2014, but those arguments seem to be moot considering Oklahoma’s inclusion as a one loss team in 2015.
The league office has made significant changes to the scheduling component to insure that members play at least one power five school out of conference and forbidding conference members from playing more than one FBS opponent. These provisions don’t effect current scheduling contracts, but they are a step in the right direction and should help negate the presumption that certain Big 12 members play a weak non-conference slate. (Yes Baylor, we’re looking at you.)
If the NCAA shoots down the title game proposal, the Big 12 probably expands beyond its current ten members. If the proposal passes, the conference probably keeps is current membership and splitting the TV loot between ten members instead of twelve. But expansion or the addition of a championship game don’t necessarily move the ball forward for the Big 12.
The two mostly likely expansion candidates, BYU and Cincinnati (yes, somehow these are the two names mentioned the most) don’t significantly improve the leagues national footprint. The Big 12 has experience with adding numbers but not value, remember West Virginia? Sure you do. Trips to Morgantown every other year don’t let you forget.
BYU is a name brand, in the same way that Chuck Taylors are a name brand. The Cougars had a great run under LaVell Edwards in the late 70’s and 80’s. Since then they have been a consistent bowl team, but a team that has never been to a BCS game and overplayed its hand in deciding to go independent. They realize now that they aren't the next Notre Dame and want, nay, need to find a soft landing spot, preferably outside the Mountain West.
Cincinnati is only attractive because they’re a close geographic partner to West Virginia. Well that and the University sits in Ohio, essentially making it the Grand Prairie of college football. The Bearcats have only recently become a player in the national landscape and even then took advantage of a weak Big East. There are of course other candidates, Colorado State, Houston, Tulsa, Tulane, etc, but none bring as much to the table as BYU and Cincy. That’s saying a lot by the way. BYU and Cincy don’t bring much.
A title game may or may not help depending on the year. Let’s assume Baylor and TCU would’ve played in 2014, does a rematch help or hurt either’s chances? Possibly, but it’s generally going to depend on scenarios outside the league's control. With a ten team format, the title game would always be a rematch. This years title game of Oklahoma/Oklahoma State would have been a rematch of a game the week before. An OU loss and chances are neither team gets in over Stanford, Ohio State, or even Notre Dame.
The SEC has a wonderful two division format, a title game and yet the SEC has run dangerously close to cannibalizing it playoff chances either through the conference schedule or a title game. The PAC 12 eliminated themselves, internally this season. The Big 12 sat with two one loss teams in 2014, both on the cusp of a playoff bid and were knocked out by the committee, rather than the rigors of a two division system and a title game to boot. Let's all remember the goal is to make the playoff, not to self impose a gauntlet that could destroy playoff hopes.
The money people tend to believe that a title game adds $20 million in value to a league. How they come up with that number and the assumptions made are, as is often the case with the money people’s projections, hard to pin down and impossible to verify. (Think of it like the added value new ballparks or stadiums are always “projected” to bring to a downtown or an metropolitan area, it’s monopoly money, the “projection” is all that matters, not the actual take home.)
Ultimately the Big 12 membership may be wealthier and safer with the current ten team format and no championship game. Though it may be years away, the winds of playoff expansion are definitely blowing. If the conference can sit tight, they'll be virtually assured a playoff spot and they'll be splitting money ten ways instead of twelve. Plus what other league can boast of “One True Champion” where titles are settled head to head, on the field. Oh wait, scratch that.