Big 12’s split into holding divisions as NCAA proposal aims to remove conference title game restrictions

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – As the Big 12 was considering a temporary split into divisions for soccer, sources told CBS Sports that an NCAA proposal to relax the conference’s championship game rules complicated matters. This proposal would no longer require FBS conferences to have divisions to hold league title games, effectively giving those conferences better access to the College Football Playoff, allowing them to match their two best teams.

A special Big 12 subcommittee formed to determine how best to incorporate up to 14 teams into the 2023-24 conference realignment was expected to finalize the league’s composition and schedules this week. However, the Big 12 is awaiting a resolution on a proposal from the NCAA Football Oversight Committee that would allow all leagues to play non-divisional but still hold conference championship games without waiver of the association.

This would give the conferences the opportunity to match their top two teams (usually the highest ranked) in league title games. Legislation would be an option, not a mandate. Currently, the only FBS conferences that play non-divisional are the 10-team Big 12 and the 11-team American. The Big 12 plays a round-robin schedule, granting it the ability to play a conference championship game, while the AAC has an NCAA exemption to match its top two teams to the league title.

With divisions becoming less important, the Big 12 need to pull back with their greatest membership ever, albeit temporarily.

“You’re basically starting [the scheduling process] from scratch,” a source familiar with the Big 12 lawsuit told CBS Sports.

This five-person subcommittee has been discussing what is expected to be 14 teams for the 2023-24 seasons for months. That’s assuming BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF join the Big 12 in 2023, while Oklahoma and Texas stay for the final two seasons before departing for the SEC in 2025. In a 14-team divisional lineup, scheduling would be easier with teams playing six divisional games and three crossover competitions with the other division.

The Big 12 has been playing as a 10-team league with a round-robin schedule since 2011. However, scheduling becomes more complicated as a 14-team league because schools would need to agree on competitive balance. This discussion can become combative, given the lingering animosity over Oklahoma and Texas leaving the conference.

“How could we make this work and keep your national rivals together?” a Big 12 source asked. “How do you do that for two years knowing everyone wants to play Texas or Oklahoma in one of those two years?”

Last week, this five-person subcommittee had not developed any sample schedules for the 2023-24 seasons. In January, CBS Sports released the Big 12 was involved in plans to split into seven-team divisions from 2023.

Such considerations are now being reassessed.

“We were clearly focused on two divisions,” said the person familiar with the process. “We’re coming up with a few different models. We were going to use those meetings to finalize what it would look like. Now, this new proposed legislation.”

Starting last month, the NCAA Football Oversight Committee began considering a proposal that would do away with current requirements for hosting a conference championship game. Any committee recommendation would have to be approved by the NCAA Council. A Big 12 source believes the process will be completed by mid-May.

However, given the fluidity of the NCAA at the time, Commissioner Bob Bowlsby questioned whether the association should be involved.

“I don’t know why the NCAA has to get involved in this anyway,” Bowlsby said. “Conferences can competently decide how they want to run their competition.”

The March 24 oversight committee report contains a main item seeking feedback “to remove the requirements to exclude a conference championship game” from the 12-game maximum of the regular season. This is code to exclude language that requires schools playing a conference championship game to have at least 12 teams or play a round robin schedule. Round-robin language addresses the current 10-team Big 12, which had a previously approved exemption because their conference schedule allowed all teams to play against each other in the regular season.

The oversight proposal – authored by Pac-12, according to NCAA documents – is considered uncontroversial with broad support among the 10 FBS conferences. There has been growing support for deregulating conference championship game requirements, thereby increasing access to the CFP.

“I think people are trying to figure out how to better position their teams in the CFP,” said the source familiar with the process. “I think that’s it. I think it’s giving each conference autonomy to decide how to get to the CFP, whether it’s four [teams] or it ends up being 12.”

Combining the top two teams – as determined by each individual conference – lessens the possibility of an “inferior” team upset that could eliminate the conference from the CFP.

“The feeling is that this expanded playoff, whatever the form, you’re going to want your two best teams playing in the championship game,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told CBS Sports. “You know the risk when you have divisions. You can have a three-loss team that bothers someone. [higher ranked].”

The Big 12 reinstated their championship game in 2015 after being left out of the first College Football Playoff in 2014. That year, Baylor and TCU tied for the league title. At the time, the Big 12 was the only conference that did not play a conference championship game. The league missed that first CFP because it was suggested by then-Chairman of the CFP Selection Committee, Jeff Long, that the big 12 did not have an extra “data point”.

In 2017, the Big 12 decided to match their two highest-ranked teams in a league title game to create a better chance of entering the CFP. It was able to do so as a single league because each team played nine games against the remaining teams in the conference.

If the proposal is approved, even expanding to 14 teams in 2023, the Big 12 will not be able to play split-free or with a round-robin calendar and continue to match its two highest-ranked teams in their championship game. The Big 12 would shrink to 12 teams in football from 2025.

Two sources told CBS Sports that the SEC may have delayed the proposal, perhaps in retribution for the ACC not supporting the expansion; however, the SEC is now on board.

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