What Would the New Big 12 Look Like With No Divisions?
The Big 12 that captivated the hearts and minds of the nation from 1996 to around 2010 featured the appropriate amount of teams to fit its name. That number was 12 teams. Since the departure of Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, and Texas A&M the conference has only added TCU and West Virginia and has had 10 teams with the Big 12 name for a decade now.
The 10-team league stayed that way because the conference told the teams they could all make the same amount of money as a whole, but split it 10 ways instead of 12. There was plenty of time and opportunity for the conference to be proactive in adding members and strengthening its brand, but instead they stayed put and thought the good times would last forever.
In regards to the football conversation of the 10-team Big 12, there were a couple of years where the conference didn't have a conference championship game at all, which quickly went away and morphed into a division-less round robin where the top-ranked teams meet in a Conference Championship game.
In my mind, the current model of the round-robin conference schedule is the best in college football. The SEC plays only two teams a year outside of their divisions. Same with the Big 10. I'd prefer to cross-pollinate much more often with my Big 12 brethren.
To that end, when Oklahoma and Texas eventually move on to the SEC I motion that the Big 12 keeps the division-less format when the conference settles back in at a comfortable 12 teams.
Of course, my bias here is for Texas Tech to have the best opportunity at a Big 12 title game. If you dump all the Texas teams into one division with BYU and Oklahoma State, I fear that you'll be right back to where you were in the original Big 12 with a really good division and a so-so division. That hurts the conference when it comes to conference championship parity.
Here's my counter to the old worn-out two-division east/west or north/south mumbo jumbo that people keep suggesting. To me, for the Big 12 to truly succeed they need to play as many big-time games as possible.
Here's my plan to do that.
Step 1: Schedule a Big 12/SEC Challenge for football.
It works in basketball, so why can't it work in football? There's still a team disparity, but who wouldn't love the entirety of the Big 12 playing 12 different SEC schools on a single Saturday in September? I think it sounds like an amazing time. If COVID-19 taught us anything it taught us that it's incredibly stupid to schedule games 10 years in advance, and that games can be set up within months if you try a little bit.
Step 2: Do the same thing with the ACC/Pac 12.
I don't think the Big Ten wants the smoke, but I'd be fine with that, too. This one doesn't have to be a spectacle like the SEC Challenge, but every Big 12 school should be playing a second Power 5 opponent. It should be a selling point for the future rights contract that the conference plays big games, early and often.
If the television executives think you don't bring enough to the table, guarantee that USC, Oregon, Alabama, Ohio State, Texas and Oklahoma will still be playing games against Big 12 opponents moving forward.
Step 3: Set up three scheduling pods.
Instead of two divisions that have independent champions that play for the Big 12 Title, set up three pods that have an NFL-style scheduling model. The two highest-ranked teams in the CFP Rankings after the regular season concludes play for the Big 12 Championship.
The pods could go like this:
The Western Pod: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU
The North Remembers Pod: BYU, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State
The Rest: Houston, West Virginia, Cincinnati, UCF
Each pod would play their pod-members every season in football alternating home and away. You would also have a protected rivalry in each separate pod you'd play every season. Then you'd play two other teams from each pod in an alternating fashion.
For example, Texas Tech's potential schedule would have Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU, Houston, and BYU on it every year. Then, adding two more teams from each conference could fill a schedule out like this: Kansas, Iowa State, West Virginia and UCF.
That keeps the Red Raiders at the 9-conference game model that the Big 12 is currently using. Add in two power 5 non-conference games and you're giving television and streaming providers a pretty strong product.
Step 4: Get creative with the next media rights deal
To make the games feel bigger and badder be on multiple networks. Don't settle for all of your "primetime" games at 11 a.m. on FOX. Get a weekly game on Apple TV+. Get a weekly game on Amazon. Get paid by everyone to show Big 12 games everywhere.
Sure, it'd be an adjustment period for fans who would bitch and moan about needing 10 streaming platforms to watch their teams, but you'd keep pace with the big boys of college football and their billion-dollar media deals.