One True Champion and No True Winners: The Big 12 and a Return to Realignment

Ahem... there seems to be an incongruity with your little cardboard signs sirs...

Ahem… there seems to be an incongruity with your little cardboard signs sirs…

Its bowl season again. Time to watch Whatstatearetheyin University square off against Ididn’tknowtheyhadafootballteam State. But this year there’s a little twist added to the shenanigans. This is the first year of the College Football Playoff, which, in its current composition, only contains 4 teams: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. Now, if you’ve been following college football all year you already knew that, but what you also knew is that this list was conspicuously missing two major, yearlong contenders for playoff spots: TCU and Baylor.

Even though TCU had leapt up to #3 in the Playoff Committee’s rankings before the final week of the season, and even though Baylor had a win over TCU, and the same 11-1 record as them, both Big 12 Schools were left wanting. This appears to have been a result of the Playoff Committee’s decision to place a major emphasis on “Conference Champions” when picking their Chosen Four. Moreover, even though the Big 12 attempted to declare TCU and Baylor “Co-Champions” the Committee wasn’t buying it.

[One True Champion! Unless of course we think we can sneak 2 teams into the Playoff… wait, we’re getting 0 in?!]

The Committee want their playoff teams to play in, and win, a Conference Title Game. And with only 10 teams in the Big 12 (a result of the 2012 Great Conference Reshuffle) the Big 12 is not allowed to have a Conference Title Game (per ridiculous NCAA rule #92183475).

So its too late for either of the Big 12’s power teams this year, but if the conference doesn’t want to be competing at a disadvantage into perpetuity (or at least until someone gets their act together and realizes that a 16 team (or at LEAST 8) playoff is the ideal anyway, the Big 12 is going to have to seriously consider expanding back to 12 teams (hurray for sensible names!).

So because I love conference realignment (because it gives me hope that NDSU will have an opportunity to hop up into an FBS conference) let’s take a look where the fake Big 12 could turn to become that actual Big 12.

The first and most logical place for the Big 12 to look in its poaching is the Mountain West Conference. The Mountain West is far and away the best “Non-Power Five” Conference for football. Their members consistently out perform members of Power Five Conferences, and have been known to win many big games against even the best of the Power Five.

You’ll also notice that two of those former MWC champions in the above videos (TCU and Utah) are no longer in the MWC, but have been poached by bigger conferences (The Big 12 and PAC 12 respectively). So it seems to make the most sense that the Big 12 would first look to the Mountain West (it is both a geographic match and competitive match) to expand its conference.

As far as I see it there are 4 Mountain West teams that may be competitive enough to succeed in the Big 12 (Air Force is very competitive, but with their unique recruiting restrictions [anyone who wants to go to Air Force to play football also has to want to… y’know… join the Air Force for 7 years] I don’t think they’d be a fit for the Big 12).

The first is Boise State. Competitively speaking they are obviously the first choice. They have made a habit of beating Big 12 schools in recent years (including the infamous Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma) and have been relevant on a national stage for a decade now. However, they never seem to be a target by any large conferences, which I have to imagine stems in large part from their isolated geography. Now, I won’t put any kind of geographic inanity past the Big 12 after they moronically allowed West Virginia into their conference, but I can’t imagine they want to make that mistake twice.

The next best Flavor of the Day would be Colorado State. They’re a better geographic fit than Boise. They have the student population and endowments to fit in with the Big 12. They are consistently competitive in both the big money college sports (Men’s Basketball and College Football). And this year they made a good deal of noise on the national scene… however, that noise was primarily because they were losing their head coach to Florida. So if the Big 12 pulled the trigger on Colorado State, they’d likely be buying high and may regret it as CSU is perhaps set to regress slightly for the next couple seasons.

csu

Utah State would also be a great option. They fit geographically. Have the endowments and students to match Big 12 programs. They’re consistently competitive in both Football and Basketball. The same could be said about Nevada (although they’re a far inferior geographic fit). Neither of these schools has major clout in the public consciousness though which could scare off the Big 12 if they don’t want to be perceived as diluting their conference.

However, its entirely possible that the MWC teams hold together. The MWC commissioner made impassioned pleas to strip the collapsing Big East of their automatic qualifier status and grant it to the Mountain West when the big conference shakeups were going on. And even though the BCS is now gone, and that battle was therefore removed from the equation, it could rear up again. If Conference Titles matter as much as they seem to to the Committee, we could eventually move toward an 8 team playoff where the Power 5 each get an Automatic Qualification for their Champion, and there is no reason to believe the MWC won’t fight for (and perhaps receiver) the same status. So anyway, let’s take a look at a couple other options if noone from the MWC wants to make the leap.

I think BYU is very serious about remaining independent (Notre Dame of the West I guess…), but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t at least consider a move to the Big 12 if asked. Moreover, this move would allow the Big 12 and their potential target to skip a lot of red tape, as they don’t need to remove a team from its current conference, but rather simply need to add an independent. Add in the fact that BYU has major football pedigree, and they’d seem like a great match.

BYU wouldn't get bowled over in the Big 12 because they don't let anyone stand in their way... not even the refs... image via http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865590303/BYUs-Hoffman-scores-2-touchdowns-breaks-another-record.html?pg=all

BYU wouldn’t get bowled over in the Big 12 because they don’t let anyone stand in their way… not even the refs… image via http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865590303/BYUs-Hoffman-scores-2-touchdowns-breaks-another-record.html?pg=all

After that the contenders start to look a lot worse. SMU has football history (not all of it good), and they’re located in the Big 12’s backyard, but they’ve been atrocious of late. Tulsa could possibly grow to compete in the Big 12 but I imagine if they joined tomorrow they’d spend the better part of a decade getting beaten down (perhaps a bottom dwellers rivalry with Kansas is in the works!).

At the end of the day, all these schools have arguments for and against their joining the Big 12. Moreover, the Big 12 may not even decide to expand at all. But if they want to erase the risk of having two playoff caliber teams left out of competition like this year, they may be better safe than sorry, and may get to play kingmaker for one of these well deserving schools.

(Photo Credit North Dakota State Athletics)

(Photo Credit North Dakota State Athletics)

But now, because I am an enormous homer, I have a quick aside which of course involves NDSU. Conference shakeups always get me excited that maybe the guys running NDSU will decide to be proactive and push to join an FBS conference. Now I’m not saying NDSU will be targeted by the Big 12 (they wont… even though it may be a pipe dream of mine…) or even that they’ll be able to join the Mountain West to replace a hypothetically poached team (another dream of mine), but when one conference makes a move (in this case the Big 12) the repercussions always flow downhill, which means that eventually, at the end of the road there could be an FBS conference looking for a new team, and NDSU could fit the bill perfectly.

I’ve talked about this time and again so I’ll keep this short but heres the issue. The conferences lower down in FBS (and therefore closer to NDSU’s current status) aren’t good geographic fits for the Bison at all (Sun Belt, Conference USA) OR if they are a good geographic fit, they are not likely to lose teams in this Big 12 shakeup (MAC) which means NDSU likely won’t benefit from this change.

The larger shame is that the two conferences which form the bulk of this discussion (The Big 12 and the Mountain West) both would form excellent geographic homes for NDSU. While competing in the Big 12 would be difficult it would be nowhere near impossible as NDSU has beaten both Kansas State and Iowa State in back to back years, and Kansas a couple years before that. Moreover, NDSU could come in and compete immediately in the Mountain West. They would absolutely feast on the bottom tier of the Mountain West (Wyoming, Hawaii, San Jose State, UNLV, New Mexico) and at least compete with the best (although it would take several years of growth before NDSU could consistently beat the Boise’s or the Utah State’s of the world. And other than Hawaii the geographic concerns wouldn’t be the end of the world (NDSU already travels to southern California on multiple occasions for small sports such as track etc).

In any event both these conferences would make great homes for the Bison. But that will likely not be coming any time in the near future (MWC) or any time at all (Big 12). These conferences would need new teams that could begin playing right now, and if NDSU moved to the FBS there would be an initial ban on postseason play (just as there was when the Bison went from DII to DI FCS in the first place). These two conferences are not “starter” conferences. These are finished products. They’re not in the business of doing a favor for a school which is just now moving out of the FCS ranks, regardless of how successful that school may be.

I don’t know what needs to happen to pull NDSU up to the FBS ranks, but I’m getting pretty sick of waiting, and I hope this new shakeup happens, and opens some doors for the Bison.