FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Now the Big 12 Conference has a real debate to settle after both of its co-champions were left out of the four-team playoff.
After weeks of talk about whether Baylor or TCU deserved to be in the playoff, neither made it Sunday, and the Big 12 may be reconsidering how to declare its champion.
“That will cause us to go back to the drawing board a little bit and talk about whether or not we need to think about a different model,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN after the final playoff ranking.
The Big 12 is the only of the big-five leagues without a championship game, but it also the only one where every team plays each other in a round-robin schedule. Baylor and TCU (both 11-1, 8-1 Big 12) were declared co-champions, even though the Bears beat the Horned Frogs 61-58 on Oct. 11.
The Big 12 can’t hold a championship game because it only has 10 teams; current NCAA rules require conferences with 12 teams split into two divisions to play a title game.
“We’re in a room that feels like we just lost a football game. That to me is a travesty,” Baylor coach Art Briles said Sunday. “That’s what I hate. We won a big game (Saturday) night. We are Big 12 champions. We won a Big 12 championship for two years in a row.”
Baylor was fifth in the final playoff ranking, with TCU sixth. The Bears had been behind TCU in the first six weekly rankings, which began 2 1/2 weeks after they played each other.
The top four were Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State, all who won conference championship games.
Bowlsby said that is a clear indication that the Big 12 got penalized for not having a championship game on the first weekend in December, when the league was instead wrapping up its regular season with two games that had title implications.
“I thought you had a championship game because you had so many teams, and that they split their divisions, and you played so that the best played from both sides,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “For me, if we have to have championship games so it gives us the better opportunity, then we’ll have to go do that.”
Patterson pointed out that Big 12 coaches voted on and approved co-champions and that he is OK with that declaration. But he added that he would have no problem in the future to “just play the game off” in such situations to determine “one true champion, if that’s what people want.”
Both Baylor and TCU still made it into one of the New Year’s six games.
The Frogs will play in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 against Mississippi (9-3) from the SEC. Baylor is going to the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day against Big Ten team Michigan State (10-2).
TCU was third in the playoff ranking before its 55-3 win over last-place Iowa State on Saturday to claim a share of the Big 12 title in only the Frogs’ third year in the league. Baylor was sixth before a 38-27 win over Kansas State (9-3, 7-2), before Ohio State finished off its 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
Kansas State athletic director John Currie called Bowlsby’s comments appropriate, and figures they will come up rather quickly.
“We do have Big 12 meetings (Monday) in New York City. I’m sure we’ll have something to talk about,” Currie said.
Bowlsby presented championship trophies to both Baylor and TCU after their respective games about 90 miles apart.
Briles made it clear that he believes the Bears should be considered the “One True Champion,” living up to the league’s much-repeated slogan. He had a rather brisk conversation about that with Bowlsby on the podium in the middle of the field during the celebration.
When asked what changes he would like to see the Big 12 make, Briles instead talked about what his team could have done.
“If we were sitting here 12-0, we’re in the final four. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “I guess that’s what we need to do to be able to be in there. I guess winning 11 games and winning our conference two times in a row, which is considered the second-best conference in America by most people’s standards and having the tiebreaker in this conference apparently wasn’t enough.”