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The Big 12 wants to change conference championship rules, whether the Big Ten likes it or not

If you're interested in the nuts and bolts of what could start the next round of conference realignment, you'll want to pay attention.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After the National Championship, the next big event on the college football calendar might have nothing to do with athletes or coaches. For now, anyway.

The 2016 NCAA Convention is next week, and near the end, administrators will vote on the Big 12 and ACC's proposal to deregulate rules surrounding conference championship games. If those conferences have their way, conferences will no longer be required to have 12 teams to host a football championship and can decide themselves how to set one up. If it fails, one national writer thinks the Big 12 has a 70 percent chance of expanding.

(The ACC already has a title game, but it could be looking at splitting up its divisions creatively. The Big 12 wants to add one, despite its history suggesting that's a questionable idea.)

So if you're a fan of a Big 12 program, or a school that wants in, like BYU, Cincinnati or Houston, next week is huge. The process is a little complicated, so we reached out to an NCAA spokesperson.

What was the proposal?

Here's the rationale:

Currently, football is the only [college] sport that has additional criteria (e.g., 12 or more members, two divisions) that must be satisfied in order to exempt a conference championship game from the limitation on the maximum number of contests.

By allowing a conference to determine the criteria for its football championship, as is the case in all other sports, a more stable conference membership environment may be established.

Finally, with the elimination of the round-robin, regular-season requirement, a conference would be afforded the flexibility to determine its regular-season schedule and preserve non-conference rivalries.

For a long time, it was expected this would pass without much of a fuss. That is, until the Big Ten raised an objection a few weeks ago.

What was the Big Ten's proposal?

The Big Ten was fine with conferences potentially holding championship games with fewer than 12 members. However, its proposal would still require those conferences to divide teams into divisions.

Each member conference participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision should have the same opportunity to determine whether it conducts a conference championship game. For that to happen, the provision requiring 12 or more members in order to exempt a conference championship game needs to be removed.

It is appropriate, however, to maintain the provision regarding matching up division winners. Whereas other team sports require a tournament format to exempt a conference championship event (e.g., basketball requires that the tournament be single elimination), the nature of football, as well as the postseason structure of bowl subdivision football, which includes bowls and the College Football Playoff, render a conference tournament format impractical.

In order for the additional game to be exempted as a conference championship, the match-up must be reflective of the participating teams' success within the conference, which is provided through the divisional-format provision.

Wait, why did the Big Ten do that?

A source close to the conference said the Big Ten did not make the proposal to be "obstructionist" or to specifically block the plans of either the Big 12 or the ACC, which would be in line with what Jim Delany has said earlier. The Big Ten is also not said to be looking to force the Big 12 into expanding. Rather, the conference was concerned that total deregulation might have unintended consequences.

Who'll vote on the rule?

Each FBS conference designates a representative to the NCAA council that votes on legislation. They are:

  • Mitch Barnhart, AD, Kentucky, SEC
  • Tim Day, FAR, Iowa State, Big 12
  • Dan Guerrero, AD, UCLA, Pac-12
  • John Hartwell, AD, Troy, Sun Belt
  • Blake James, AD, Miami, ACC
  • Paul Krebs, AD, New Mexico, MWC
  • Warde Manuel, AD, UConn, American Athletic Conference
  • Jim Phillips, AD, Northwestern, Big Ten
  • Judy Rose, AD, Charlotte, Conference USA
  • Mike O'Brien, AD, Toledo, MAC

FBS independents, like BYU and Army, do not have specific voices.

Typically, these votes don't even occur until April, but since this proposal is "time sensitive." the NCAA council agreed to hold this vote earlier, per an NCAA spokesperson.


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How does the voting actually work?

Each FBS conference has one vote, but the votes from the Power 5 conferences (Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12) count double, meaning there are 15 votes total.

If a proposal gets an 85 percent majority (in this case, 13 out of 15 votes), the decision is final.

If a proposal gets between eight and 12 votes, it will pass, but it will be subjected to a 60-day trial period in which schools can request to rescind. A super-majority seems unlikely, so it is possible that we won't get a final decision until March.

So, who is going to win?

That isn't clear. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he is "less certain" of the outcome than he was before.

On Dec. 4, Bowlsby was quoted by Dennis Dodd of CBS as saying that "at least four of the five Power Five conferences support the Big 12-ACC version," which would give the Big 12 enough votes. Dodd also reported, "SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the SEC could be willing to allow the Big 12 to stage a conference championship game with 10 teams and no divisions while playing a full round-robin schedule."

But on Dec. 27, Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated painted a murkier picture.

Right now, it appears the Big Ten and SEC would vote against the Big 12's initial proposal (before the Big Ten amendment), while the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC would probably vote for it. (Considering how important this issue is to the Big 12's future, there has been surprisingly little creative thought behind it). The support for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's amendment isn't as clear, although the Pac-12 would likely be in favor of it to promote conformity.

If only three Power 5 conferences supported total deregulation, the Big Ten and another P5 conference could join with all of the Group of 5 (the FBS' non-power conferences) to block it. But where the G5 conferences stand is a little less clear. For example, hypothetically, The American could decide to vote against the Big Ten's proposal, since any proposal that could make Big 12 expansion more likely could hurt the AAC, no matter what they thought of it's ideological merits.

A lot can change, but it seems the Pac-12 and SEC are the most important swing votes.

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