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Big 12 championship game dominoes prepare to fall with BYU a possible expansion beneficiary

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Details are starting to trickle in about the Big 12's championship game deregulation proposal, and what it may mean for BYU.

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The 2015 college football season wraps up tomorrow, but the offseason may be about to start with a bang. Representatives from every FBS conference are set to vote this coming week on the Big 12 and ACC's proposal to deregulate conference championship games, and the result could have major implications for BYU.

I wrote about the nuts and bolts of the proposals and the voting here, in case you're not sure exactly what the Big 12 is asking for, or what the Big Ten's objection was. But the TL;DR is that the Big 12 would like to be allowed to hold a conference championship game without splitting into divisions or expanding. The Big Ten would like to require conferences to still divide into divisions to determine who would make a championship game. The thinking, as reported by Pete Thamel and others, is that if the Big 12 is not able to secure permission to hold a title game without expansion or divisions, they are likely to expand, which may include BYU. If the Cougars want a shot at a Power 5 conference invitation, their best bet is for the Big 12's proposal to fail.

The vote is scheduled for Wednesday. What do we know?

The Big 12 does not expect total deregulation to pass

Earlier in the season, total conference championship deregulation was expected to pass easily. But then the Big Ten raised on objection, filing a proposal to require teams to still divide into divisions to pick conference championship game participants. Since then, support for the Big 12 proposal seems to have plummeted, with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby telling the Dallas Morning News that they do not expect total deregulation to pass anymore.

"I do not think full deregulation will be accepted but it seems we might have a compromise that might work," Bowlsby said in a text message.

It's unclear exactly what a compromise would entail. The Big 12's objectives this week seem pretty clear. They don't want to expand, and they don't want to split into divisions. If there is some other potential system that would allow them to potentially hold a title game, even one that hasn't been formally announced yet, they will try to haggle for it this week. I'm not really sure what a compromise could potentially look like though, given that the other proposal is basically the opposite of that. Perhaps something like this?

How will the conferences vote?

I honestly do not think this is actually set in stone yet, and that depending on how discussions go during the NCAA convention, conference representatives could change their mind. That being said, here is how I imagine things going right now. Remember, there are 15 total votes at stake here, two for every P5 conference, and one for every Group of Five conference.

Big 12 and ACC --  In favor of total deregulation.

This would make sense, given that the two conferences sponsored the dang resolution to begin with.

Big Ten -- Against total deregulation.

Again, this makes sense, given that the Big Ten sponsored the counter proposal to begin with. The conference has been adamant in remarks to other outlets, and to me, that they did not sponsor this specifically to force the Big 12 to expand. their rationale and discussions next week should be very interesting.

SEC -- Against total deregulation.

I wasn't sure which way the SEC was leaning, but the conference made it quite clear on Sunday, when SEC commissioner Greg Sankey flat out said the conference won't support the Big 12's proposal.

Pac-12 -- Probably against total deregulation.

The Pac-12 hasn't made an official statement yet, but I would be very surprised if they don't stand with the Big Ten. Here's what Pete Thamel wrote on Dec 27:

Right now, it appears the Big Ten and SEC would vote against the Big 12's initial proposal (before the Big Ten amendment), while the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC would probably vote for it. (Considering how important this issue is to the Big 12's future, there has been surprisingly little creative thought behind it). The support for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's amendment isn't as clear, although the Pac-12 would likely be in favor of it to promote conformity.

Given the Pac-12's close ties with Delany, and the fact that Pac-12 institutions might be harmed more by a perceived "easier" path to the playoff for the Big 12 (given that the Pac-12 has nine conference games and has members who have complained about schedule disparities), I would imagine they would be most likely to join with the Big Ten.

That would leave the votes 6-4 against total deregulation as the most likely outcome. But what about the rest of the votes?

Sun Belt -- Almost certainly in favor of total deregulation.

Outside of the Big 12, nobody else stands to directly benefit more from championship deregulation than the Sun Belt. The conference, which currently has 11 football playing members, recently voted to add Coastal Carolina, which would give them 12. But two schools, New Mexico State and Idaho, are provisional football-only programs, whose membership is up for a vote in March. The Sun Belt is expected to vote to remove both programs (thanks to their distance and general uncompetitiveness on the football field), and deregulation would allow them to have a title game (if they wanted) without having to expand.

The American -- Likely to vote in favor of deregulation.

I'm not honestly sure what the conference thinks of the ideological merits of championship deregulation, but if the Big 12 was forced to expand, it's very likely that at least one (if not both) schools would come from The American. A vote in favor of deregulation would be a vote to help maintain stability in conference membership. A vote otherwise would be surprising.

Conference USA -- I don't know.

A CUSA representative said they are still finalizing input on the decision.

MAC -- Will vote against deregulation.

A source close to the MAC has informed me that the MAC intends to vote against total deregulation, and will support the Big Ten's proposal.

Mountain West- I don't know.

A MWC spokesman tells me that the conference has not said which way they will vote on the proposal. I must admit, there is some irony in the fact that BYU will likely need to depend on the MWC in order to get into a power conference.

If Bowlsby anticipates that total deregulation will fail, that would mean that at least two of those three G5s would need to vote against it. We'd be looking at a 9-6 vote, or something close to it.

If the Big 12 vote fails, and they are unable to hold a championship game without expansion or divisions, will they add BYU?

It's too early to answer that question, in my opinion, although Thamel and others have speculated BYU would be near the top of the board. I think so much can change during that process. However, based on my conversations and what I have heard, should the conference expand, I believe the priorities would be:

  • Finding at least one travel partner for West Virginia
  • Adding schools with competitive football, and to a much lesser extent, basketball programs
  • Adding schools that would add to the long-term stability of the conference
  • Institutional fit
It's a small sample, but the realignment decisions made by conferences without TV networks doesn't seem to indicate that TV market size is the biggest variable (the Big 12 taking WVU over Pittsburgh and Louisville, the ACC taking Louisville over UConn, others). With the Longhorn Network not going anywhere, I don't anticipate a Big 12 network starting any time soon, so adding a school like say, USF, which offers more demographic potential than current product, would really surprise me.

We're a long ways to go in this process. But some things should become more clear in just a few days.