Maybe, just maybe, the Big 12 knew what it was doing when it brought is football championship game back from the dead last season.
Since then, the Big 12 has held two title games at AT&T Stadium and put champion Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff each time — the primary reason for the resurrection. Before the return of the title game, the Big 12 was 1 for 3 on making the CFP. No one is saying the title game is the difference maker, but CFP executive director Bill Hancock acknowledged Sunday the title game worked this year for the Big 12.
For a league that has doubled as a public piñata at times, that’s progress. Oklahoma claimed the fourth spot ahead of No. 5 Georgia and No. 6 Ohio State and will face Alabama in the Capital One Orange Bowl as part of the semifinals.
“Yes, it helped the Big 12 this time for Oklahoma to have another game against a quality opponent,” Hancock said, while noting that people forget about the risk factor with a possible title game loss.
In New York on Monday as part of National Football Foundation activities, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he liked the results so far even if he refrained from a verbal victory lap.
“It’s worked out for the last two years like we hoped it would,” Bowlsby said. “I suspect there will be a year when it doesn’t work out the way we want it to. But putting our first- and second-place teams against each other, there’s a risk in that. We’re the only ones that have our two best teams playing.
“I think early indications are good and the outcome in terms of accessing the playoff is good. We’re very happy at this point.”
If you remember, the Big 12 retained big-time consultants and crunched as much data as it could on expansion and the championship game and its own TV network a couple of years ago. The championship game was the only one to make the cut, although it was greeted with skepticism. Some wondered if a round-robin schedule and a title game was overkill. Some viewed it as an overreaction to the snub of TCU and Baylor in 2014.
The Big 12 said it was just a case of looking at the numbers.
“We were told by the [selection] committee that the 13th data point would make a difference, and we did enough data analysis to know that we were about 10 percent more likely to get an opportunity in the playoff if we held a championship game,” Bowlsby said. “It was a data-driven process.”
Money was a consideration, too. Estimates at the time indicated the Big 12 could make something like $30 million annually from a championship game, which Bowlsby indicated Monday “was in the ballpark.” And putting Texas into the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as the Big 12’s second representative in a New Year’s Six Bowl, means another $6 million this year, Bowlsby said.
While the Big 12 has plenty of self-inflicted wounds over the years, the most angst came from the 2014 CFP, which had the conference questioning its strategy.
For now, it’s working.
Then as now, Bowlsby planned to have an adult beverage after dinner Monday in New York.
“On that occasion, we weren’t celebrating,” Bowlsby said. “On this one, we are.”
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