The Big 12 Championship Game returned amid mixed emotions for the first time since 2010 last December.
The result? The conference saw the same champion crowed as would have been under the old format, while costing itself a chance of seeing another team in the New Year’s Six bowl game lineup.
Some will say that the return of the contest at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, was necessary after the conference whiffed on a spot in the College Footblal Playoff in 2014. That didn’t stop the Big 12 from cracking the playoff a year later.
But amid some unintended consequences from Oklahoma’s 41-17 win over TCU, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby isn’t regretting the decision to bring back the title game.
Bowlsby, in a recent Q&A with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, said the contest between the Sooners and Horned Frogs was an “unqualified success.”
“The showing at AT&T [Stadium in Arlington, Texas] was tremendous. We had a great crowd for it. It was a competitive game. We had a chance to have TCU and others considered for New Year’s Six games but it didn’t work out. Our Board of Directors, though, went through an extensive process to consider the re-implementation of the game. We took that step and it was huge success.”
A success or a Big 12 backfire?
To be sure, the Big 12 had received plenty of criticism during the first three years of the playoff era for being the lone Power 5 conference without a conference title game.
In 2014, TCU held the No. 3 spot in the playoff rankings entering Selection Sunday, but was bounced out for Ohio State after the Buckeyes recorded a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the “13th data point” Big Ten Championship Game. That came despite the Horned Frogs’ resounding 55-3 thumping over Iowa State that same day.
Fast forwarding to 2017, the Big 12 title game certainly provided a chance for a two-loss TCU team to be in the discussion for the College Football Playoff if they had won the title game.
Instead, the 24-point loss to the Sooners dropped TCU from No. 11 to No. 15 and out of a New Year’s Six bowl — which would have only provided that much more revenue for the Big 12.
So let’s imagine that the Big 12 Championship Game hadn’t been restored. Oklahoma, who was already the outright leader in the conference standings at 11-1, would have won the Big 12 and likely a spot in the playoff anyways.
At 10-2, the playoff would have been out of the picture for TCU after losing to Oklahoma the first time in November. But it’s almost certain that the Horned Frogs would have gone on to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game, as Washington and Penn State both qualified for the Fiesta Bowl with 10-2 records and no conference crown.
The sagacity of the Big 12’s decision to restore the title game will be more apparent in the future. At the very least, the game does give the league a chance to market itself with a national audience watching. And as the saying goes, perception often is reality in terms of a conference’s strength.
But after the unintended consequences in 2017, a healthy amount of skepticism could be warranted moving forward.