When Oklahoma hosts Oklahoma State Dec. 3 in Norman, nothing less than the Big 12 title will be on the line. An OU win gives the Sooners the championship outright, and an OSU win gives it to the Cowboys on a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Pretty cool. Few things are better than rivalry games with everything on the line, and we’ll get a Big 12-deciding Bedlam between the No. 9 Sooners and No. 11 Pokes? That’s wonderful.
It’s a really cool thing that this isn’t happening in 2017, though, or in any year afterward.
That’s when the 10-team league will start holding a conference championship game between the top two finishers in the standings, which it just announced will start out in Dallas.
Every other league that has a championship game has something the Big 12 lacks: divisions. In those conferences, teams in one division don’t play everybody in the other division. You could have, for instance, two equally accomplished teams who haven’t gotten a head-to-head test. That’s why a one-game playoff is so important.
This isn’t a problem in the Big 12. Each team plays nine conference games, one against every other team in the league. So the championship game is guaranteed to be a rematch, and at least it’ll make plenty of money. There is no clear evidence, however, that a 13th game will help the Big 12 put a team in the College Football Playoff, and in fact, the old edition of the game hurt the conference’s title chances plenty of times.
This exact scenario would’ve come up last year too, with this exact game.
Oklahoma won it in Stillwater, 58-23, and took the Big 12 outright. Is there anyone on Earth who reasonably thinks OU should’ve had to play another game against OSU a week later? There couldn’t be, and there couldn’t be anyone who’d think it this year, either.
From a competitive standpoint, a Big 12 title game is likely useless. OSU-OU shows how it could be downright stupid.
The Big 12 already schedules its games so its best teams are likely to play each other at the end of the year, giving games a championship feel. OU and OSU are rivals, and they’ll presumably keep playing post-Thanksgiving.
This year, the Sooners enter in first place, and the Cowboys enter in second place. Because of tiebreakers, they’re guaranteed to finish atop the league, too.
Let us imagine it’s a year later. We’d have an exciting rivalry game coming up on the regular season schedule. No matter the result, the two teams would play again the very next week to decide the conference champion, even after one team beat the other to claim first place.
Could you imagine how asinine that would be? The stakes of a great rivalry game would be lowered in the regular season. If the regular season loser turned out to avenge its loss in the title game, it’d feel cheap.
And what happens if there’s a split? Pretend, again, there were a title game this year, instead of one starting in 2017. Imagine the Big 12’s anguish if Oklahoma won in Norman to move to 10-2 and 9-0 in the conference, then lost to a three-loss OSU team at AT&T Stadium the next week. It’d be disastrous for the league’s Playoff hopes.
Conference title games are fun. But this one’s a bad idea.
And it’s taken OU and OSU three months to offer a clear picture of why.