FRISCO, Texas - At this time last year during Big 12 media days, the No. 1 target on Big 12 commissioner’s Bob Bowlsby’s radar screen was conference expansion.
But after considerable discussion continuing into the football season, the Big 12 ultimately chose not to add any schools.
During this year’s event, moved to the Dallas Cowboys’ beautiful Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, Bowlsby discussed several different topics, including the Big 12's lackluster overall performance during college football’s playoff era.
In the three years since the creation of the College Football Playoff, the Big 12 has had just once participant - Oklahoma - that coming during year two of the playoffs in 2015.
In the inaugural season of the playoff era, the Big 12’s top two teams, TCU and Baylor, were left out of the equation, and last year, no team had a strong enough regular season record to merit legitimate consideration, even though Oklahoma produced an undefeated record in conference play and routed Auburn, 35-19, in the Sugar Bowl.
Bowlsby is hopeful that changes this year with the help of a Big 12 Football Championship Game, to be played at AT&T Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 2 in Arlington, Texas.
The perception throughout the conference is that having a “13th data point” in the form of a championship game puts the league back on equal footing with the four other Power 5 conferences in the eyes of the College Football Playoff Committee.
Bowlsby said Monday adding that extra data point was the top factor in bringing back the game, not the additional financial windfall it will bring to conference members.
“The decision was made 100 percent on our ability to optimize the likelihood of getting a team into the CFP,” he said. “The finances of it were -- I don't ever recall them being discussed.”
Of course, there are some inherent risks to bringing back a championship game, particularly in the instances when a team in contention for a playoff berth gets knocked out on Championship Saturday.
In the case of the Big 12, this game is also going to be a rematch because the league already plays a round-robin regular season schedule.
The hope is that the rematch doesn’t occur during back-to-back weekends.
“I think we need to strike a balance in terms of trying to have a fair schedule and being able to perhaps mitigate the likelihood of that. Although I don't think that's a negative,” Bowlsby noted, adding that 33 of the conference championship games played so far have been rematches. “I think you could have a great game on the last week of the season and another great game between the same two teams the next week.”
More important, in Bowlsby’s eyes, is having the two best teams during the regular season going to Arlington to face each other in December.
The commissioner believes that will provide the best springboard for the Big 12 to get a team back into the College Football Playoff.
“Generally speaking, playing a full round robin and having our two best teams play each other on the last day of the season is a good thing, and a right way to conduct our championship,” he noted.
Holding the league’s championship game in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium gives the Big 12 its best opportunity for success based on its location in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in a state where four of its members are located, according to Bowlsby.
He believes the Dallas Cowboys organization, the extraordinary facility and tremendous local support will make this a successful event.
“We wanted to put it on the biggest stage that we could put it on, and I think that's why we wanted to do this event in the Star,” he said.
“DFW is probably the easiest place to travel to, one of the easiest in the whole country,” Bowlsby explained. “We've got great airports. We've got lots of airline flights, so we fully expect that this will be a tough ticket, and we know that it's going to be the only matchup between one and two in any of the leagues. It's the only one that's guaranteed that way.”
Indeed, the championship game will pit the top two teams in the conference. The question is will the Big 12 have any teams ranked among the top four in the eyes of the College Football Playoff Committee come early December?
That is a question Bowlsby admits he’s getting tired of addressing.
“I think our perception is somewhat a product of not being in the playoff two out of the three years. I mean, that's a really short window,” he pointed out.
“As most of you remember, the ACC was, I believe, 2-13 in the BCS era, and now they're on top of the heap. It gets a little tiresome because I know we play at a very high level, and I know that top to bottom we're the best in the country in terms of balance. And I know that the method by which we conduct our championships and conduct our regular season is the most difficult because you never miss anybody.”
Expanding on this, Bowlby recalled his tenure as athletic director at Iowa when the perception of the football program there was getting stale in the eyes of Hawkeye fans.
Big-name recruits were going elsewhere, or so it seemed. That is the perception some have of Big 12 football right now.
“One of the last teams we had at Iowa when I was there, we didn't have anybody on the team that was four-star recruits, but it's Chad Greenway who's recruited by South Dakota and Iowa and plays 13 years in the NFL; it's Bob Sanders, who was recruited by Kentucky State and Iowa and was the defensive player of the year in the National Football League. Those guys didn't have any stars by their names,” he said.
“So, I know our guys are recruiting. I know they're coaching them up. I think we've got a tremendous balance of quality veterans and quality new guys. I think it's an easy target, and I think it's a perception, not a reality. I think we play at an exceedingly high level, and I think over the 12 years of the playoff, you'll see Big 12 teams in there.”
Bowlsby added, “But make no mistake. It's not about making the playoff. It's about winning national championships. That's what we want to do.”
And it begins by getting a team back into the College Football Playoff.