I have no sympathy for the Big 12. The conference sought to finesse the committee and got finessed out of the College Football Playoff. It wasn’t just that the Big 12 is no longer big enough to hold a championship game. (The NCAA requires 12 teams for that; the Big 12 has, er, 10.) It was that Bob Bowlsby, the league’s commissioner, tried to game the nascent system by declaring two champions.
Because it never gets old, we note yet again: The Big 12’s slogan is “One True Champion.”
It’s entirely possibly that the committee would have bumped Ohio State above TCU and kept the Buckeyes above Baylor in the final rankings had Bowlsby not declared his intent to present two Big 12 champs to the CFP folks. It’s also possible that, in trying to differentiate between TCU and Baylor, the committee looked so hard at both profiles that it said, “Know what? Neither of these beats Ohio State.”
In the end, Oklahoma — long the conference flagship — might have cost the Big 12 its spot in the Final Four. The Sooners were picked No. 1 in preseason by Sporting News and No. 3 in the Associated Press poll, and they wound up going 8-4. (Nebraska, once a Big 12 member, went 9-3 and fired its coach.) Oklahoma’s crash — the Sooners lost at home Saturday to 5-6 Oklahoma State — diminished TCU’s second-best win (after Kansas State) and Baylor’s third-best (after TCU and Kansas State).
But the Big 12’s biggest error was in not following common sense and declaring Baylor its champ on the basis of its victory over TCU. When your calling card is that every conference team has to play every other conference team, head-to-head must mean something. In trying to slip two teams into the playoff, the Big 12 wound up with none. The other Power Five leagues all crowned on-the-field champions over the weekend; those four will grace the semifinals.
Yes, it was odd that TCU beat Iowa State by 52 points Saturday and dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 Sunday, but here I cut the committee some slack. Left to its devices, I’m sure the committee would prefer to do it the way the NCAA basketball committee does it — issue no rankings except for the entire bracket on Selection Sunday. But ESPN is paying a lot of money to televise the CFP, and those Tuesday shows that included chairman Jeff Long’s not-entirely-coherent weekly briefings made for Good TV and subsequent overheated conversation across the Worldwide Leader’s many platforms.
For its first try, the committee did pretty well. If it sometimes seemed to be making things up as it went along, that was because it was making things up as it went along. This was Year 1, and the CFP has, in my view if not Bob Bowlsby’s, the right foursome. And I’m reasonably certain the Big 12 commish is on the phone right now trying to rustle up two more members — is Georgia State interested? — so the Big 12 can play a championship game come 2015.