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Playoff committee partly to blame for Big 12 drama, but not how you'd think

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The committee picking Ohio State over Baylor and TCU wasn't the problem. Explaining that choice in increasingly confusing terms was.

For those of us who care about a conference championship format that rewards the most deserving team, the current method for the Big 12 is perfect.

Every team plays every other team. And then the team with the best record at the end is the champion (assuming the conference's new tiebreaker is actually a tiebreaker).

There is no possibility of an anomalous result in a championship game, as occurred in the Big 12 in 1996, 1998, and 2003, or an unbalanced schedule that gives one contender an easier draw in cross-divisional games.

But because college football succeeds in spite of the people in charge, some in the Big 12 are desperate to jettison this format. In 2014, Baylor and TCU had the temerity to finish tied at 8-1. Rather than have a true tiebreaker handy (or rely on the people in charge of the postseason rankings to make the decision, as the conference did in 2008), the Big 12 did nothing.

Whether that indecision helped the Playoff selection committee jump Ohio State over Baylor and TCU is up for debate, but it definitely helped Big 12 fans and analysts argue that the committee and conference made mistakes.

The response from the Big 12 appears to be considering adding teams. In a quintessential absurdity, the decision-makers might add distant members -- which likely have smallish fan bases and would be takers instead of makers, to use a Randian construction -- solely because of one unusual event that occurred last December.

The committee helped create this nightmare.

Committee chairman and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long referred to the fact that Ohio State's opportunity to play a 13th game was decisive, which wasn't that confusing by itself. But Wisconsin AD and committee member Barry Alvarez, never one to think through implications before speaking, went a step further when he claimed the Big 12's failure to promote "One True Champion" was a factor.

'One of our main criteria is conference championship,' he said. 'You can't give two teams in a conference the conference championship. You can't give two teams credit for that.'

Whether Alvarez was accurately reflecting the rest of the committee or just himself, he might as well have just put on a giant billboard in Dallas, "Sorry about that whole 10-team thing. What do you plan to do about it?"

Expansion questions began immediately after that, culminating in June with Oklahoma's president calling for two more schools.

So we could have Central Florida, Cincinnati or Boise State in a Texas-centric conference because of the Wisconsin AD's version of the Arkansas AD's comment.

And this isn't the first time the committee's utterances have been parsed for meaning by participants in the system. Marshall spent much of last year begging to "know how we fit in," only to be met with a wall of silence. The conclusion is that programs have become Kremlinologists with the Playoff committee, analyzing every syllable in an attempt to know where they should be walking.

There is a much simpler solution.

With the evident power of its words, the committee could have emphasized the importance of non-conference scheduling. Ohio State's loss came as part of a challenging non-conference group, but Baylor played a comical slate, and TCU's was saved only by a surprisingly frisky Minnesota.

If the committee were thinking about the long-term health of the Big 12 and major college football in general, someone would have said something like the following:

Ohio State chose to play Virginia Tech, one of the premier programs in the ACC, along with Navy and Cincinnati. If we picked Baylor over Ohio State, then we would punishing the Buckeyes for making an effort to schedule attractive non-conference opponents, as they would be unbeaten if they had played Baylor's non-conference schedule. To a lesser extent, the same is true with TCU.

The Big 12 might not be happy with the fact that Ohio State's win over Wisconsin put them over the top, but the lesson is that playing quality opponents provides a stage upon which a Playoff contender can prove itself. While Big 12 teams cannot do so with a conference title game, they can make full use of the non-conference schedule to make up for their lack of a championship game. Marquee wins have great value in September, just as they do in December.

By making a statement like this, the committee would encourage a sensible solution. Rather than scraping the barrel for two more members so it can have a championship game, the league would add resume-building matchups. This is an easier task now, with the advent of neutral-site games. The Big 12 would be able to combine its rational format for declaring a champion with less meaningless filler in September.

And not only would the Big 12 save itself from a harebrained response to the events of December, but football would benefit. The quality of non-conference matchups has declined over the past 25 years. This hurts fans who end up with fewer games worth watching. It also makes the job of the committee more difficult because there are fewer data points with which to compare teams and conferences.

Baylor was just asking to become an object lesson, a team whose coach dismissed the importance of non-conference games based on the assumption that the committee would care about records and nothing else. By explaining why that team didn't make it, the committee could have provided incentives for major athletic directors to call one another.

There are signs some in the Big 12 figured this out on their own anyway, with even Baylor adding Utah, Duke and perhaps Arkansas in future years. But the committee should take this summer's silly talk as a reminder that its words can shape the sport.