IRVING, Texas (AP) – The Big 12 Conference will not split into divisions for football and instead will match its first- and second-place teams when its championship game returns next season.
Athletic directors decided on the 1 vs. 2 format after input from the league’s football coaches, the conference announced Friday.
“Given our round-robin, nine-game scheduling model, it is expected the Big 12 champion will be uniquely positioned for College Football Playoff consideration,” Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement. “I would argue there will be no path more difficult than our champion’s, where it will have played every team in the conference, faced at least one autonomy conference non-conference opponent and then plays in our championship game. The guaranteed No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup will be a great game for our fans, and it’s hard to imagine a stronger position for a conference champion.”
The league is expected to announce the site of the 2017 championship game in the coming weeks.
The Big 12 announced earlier this year it planned to bring back the championship game it discontinued in 2011 after Nebraska and Colorado departed the conference, leaving only 10 members.
It has been the smallest Power Five conference and only one without a conference championship game since. After Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor were left out of the first four-team playoff in 2014, conference leaders considered resuming the championship game. The conference felt it could be at a disadvantage if its top teams were playing 12 games, while the other Power Five champions were playing 13, including a high-profile championship game to end the season.
In 2015, not having a championship game was not a problem for the Big 12. Oklahoma won the conference and was selected for the playoff.
Earlier this year, the NCAA passed legislation that was co-sponsored by the Big 12, allowing conferences with less than 12 members to stage a championship game.
A championship game is not a natural fit for a 10-team conference. Hired consultants provided data to the Big 12 that showed the conference’s chances to place a team in the playoff would improve by having 12 members split into two divisions, with a championship game. The Big 12 spent three months analyzing expansion and vetting schools to potentially add. Last week, the conference announced it was sticking with 10 members and its round-robin schedule, guaranteeing the championship game will be a rematch.
The Big 12 considered different ways of splitting into two five-team divisions . Divisions could have made it possible to avoid having the championship game participants playing twice during a short period of time. Cross-division games could have been scheduled for earlier in the season.
Now it is possible the conference’s two best teams could meet in consecutive weeks, which happened in the Pac-12 in 2012 with UCLA and Stanford.