The Big 12 is pulling out all the stops to get a team into the college football playoff.
Going into the final week of the season, TCU and Baylor are two of the seven teams that still have a realistic chance to make the playoff.
The other five teams on that list are all playing conference championship games this weekend. TCU and Baylor aren’t.
Since the Big 12 plays a round-robin conference schedule where everybody plays everybody, the team with the best conference record at the end of the year wins the conference and there is no championship game.
If TCU and Baylor both win their final regular season games this weekend, they will finish with identical 8-1 conference records.
Under normal circumstances, the tiebreaker would be head-to-head record. And since Baylor beat TCU, Baylor would win the Big 12.
But not this year.
In order to boost the chances that it gets a team (any team) in the playoff, both Baylor and TCU will be declared Big 12 champions if they win this weekend, the Big 12 commissioner announced on Monday.
Why are they doing this?
They’re doing it because everyone thinks conference championships will matter enormously to the playoff committee. It’s listed as a metric to use when deciding between “teams that look similar” in the committee’s official protocol. By the committee’s own guidelines, a team that has a conference championship on its resume has an advantage over a team that doesn’t.
The loophole here is that conferences get to decide how they award their championships. The SEC, ACC, Big 10, and Pac 12 all use conference championship games. The Big 12 uses a round robin with, apparently, no tiebreakers.
TCU is the highest ranked Big 12 team right now. Their only loss is to Baylor and they have wins over Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Kansas State. If the Big 12 followed the normal tiebreaker rules and declared Baylor the sole champion, it would hurt TCU. For example if the committee was picking between a one-loss Ohio State team that won the Big 10 and a one-loss TCU team that didn’t win the Big 12, the conference championship metric would be a natural tiebreaker.
To avoid this sort of situation, the Big 12 just went ahead and declared TCU a conference champion too.
This move probably won’t affect Baylor that much. If they beat Kansas State this weekend, they will win the conference championship and have a head-to-head win over TCU. If it comes down to Baylor vs. TCU for the final playoff spot, that head-to-head win will be monumental. If it comes down to Baylor vs. another team for the final playoff spot, they will still have that conference championship distinction, regardless of whether TCU has it too.
Baylor, by the way, has hired a PR firm to lobby for a spot in the playoff.
Sure, this is some craven manipulation of the rules from the Big 12, but its within their rights. On some level it’s semantics, and it’s up to the committee to sort it out. There’s nothing that says the committee has to treat TCU like an actual conference champion just because the Big 12 decided the boost their resume at the 11th hour.
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