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Weighing In: Big 12 Co-Champions?

With the fate of the Big 12 infiltrating the College Football Playoff riding on the final week of the regular season, the league has decided they aren’t going to have any part of the decision-making process.

Two teams – No. 5 TCU and No. 7 Baylor – have been flirting with the CFP rankings for the entire season, both within striking distance to take the coveted fourth spot. Both teams have one last conference game to play – the Horned Frogs host last-place Iowa State, while the Bears host No. 12 Kansas State – and both could finish with a first-place tie of 11-1 (8-1 in the Big 12) when all is said and done. So, in such an event, the Big 12 has declared that they will name a regular season champion …

Baylor AND TCU.

Say what?

Say what?

According to Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby declared on Monday that, in the event that a Big 12 team will be selected by the CFP Committee to play in the inaugural College Football Playoff, they will declare TCU and Baylor as Co-Champions of the Big 12. Said Bowlsby about the decision:

It’s not within our prerogative to bind the selection committee that way. They’re going to select who they think is the best team. This is an important distinction. Because the committee’s charge is not to select the most deserving team. The committee’s responsibility is to select the four best teams based upon their objective and subjective criteria. And each one of the committee members may feel different about how exactly that process works. … They can certainly select from any of ours.

The Big 12 also said that, in the event both teams get shut out of the CFP, the league will declare a de facto Big 12 champion, strictly for bowl purposes. Should this be the case, Baylor – by way of their head-to-head victory over TCU – will win out.

And the Horned Frogs will be kicking themselves for blowing a 21-point second-half lead in Waco.

And the Horned Frogs will be kicking themselves for blowing a 21-point second-half lead in Waco.

In the days after TCU laid waste to a middling Texas squad in the fourth quarter of their Thanksgiving matchup, and Baylor’s narrow escape of a struggling Texas Tech team, there are a lot of storylines surrounding not only the team’s themselves, but the playoff and their selection process. Let’s take a look at a few of them here:

The things that could help (or hurt) each team’s CFP case are pretty similar. Funny thing about Baylor and TCU playing the same opponents in nine of their respective games (the other 8 teams in the Big 12, plus SMU) – you have a lot to compare each other with. Sure, they play the same opponents at different times, but that doesn’t mean the committee won’t make comparisons.

For example, both teams played 7-5 West Virginia – sure, TCU got the last-second, 1-point victory, but it was still a victory; meanwhile, Baylor was outscored 14-0 in the fourth quarter to get handled by the Mountaineers for their only loss of the season.  Using that standard (who each team lost to), one could say that TCU’s loss to No. 5 Baylor, ironically enough, should look better.

Then, you look at close wins against struggling opponents – each team has one: TCU narrowly escaped 3-win Kansas in Laurence, 34-30, as both sides of the ball struggled; a team that Baylor handled easily, 60-14. Baylor, meanwhile, had a close shave against 4-win Texas Tech, 48-46 at home (with the caveat that starting QB Bryce Petty was injured during the game). This was the same Red Raiders squad TCU demolished in a record-setting day by QB Trevone Boykin, 82-27.

Yeah, TCU fans - YOU remember.

Yeah, TCU fans – YOU remember.

With those things in mind, on top of their impressive offensive numbers in their own rights, it will be difficult to distinguish between the two with anything else besides head-to-head.

Was this a weak move by the Big 12 to declare “co-champions” in the event of a tie? After all, lest we forget, the main mantra that the league began the season with – and one they boldly hung their hats on – was the idea of “One True Champion.” 10 teams playing every other team in the conference, best team wins.

Well, now, with the conference no longer adhering to the motto they sold the country on to start the 2014 season, doesn’t the Big 12 – oh, I don’t know – kind of look hypocritical?

Not according to Bowlsby:

“One True Champion” is really about everybody playing everybody. That’s the right way to do it. […] We believe that playing everyone every year is the right way to determine a champion, even if ends in a tie.

I mean, it’s a great thought to say as much, but, to the people you were selling this idea to, it’s hard to look at the face of it and not declare their actions as bold-faced hypocrisy.

what a lot of people thought after Bowlsby stubbornly defended the Big 12's "One True Champion" mantra ...

What a lot of people thought after Bowlsby stubbornly defended the Big 12’s “One True Champion” mantra …

At the end of the day, it probably should be the conference’s job to declare a champion, regardless of whether it sways the CFP Committee. While that may mean the Horned Frogs are left on the outside looking in, at least the Big 12 – the only one of the “Power 5” without a championship game to settle things – won’t look wishy-washy in the eyes of college football fans.

The committee’s charge ISN’T to select the “most deserving” team? I thought that was the whole point of a playoff in the first place. Did you notice that little caveat in the quote at the beginning of this article? Bowlsby declared that the CFP Committee’s job is “not to select the most deserving team”.

Excuse me?

"So, it's like that, huh, College Football Playoff committee?"

“So, it’s like that, huh, College Football Playoff committee?”

That statement basically flies in the face of why the playoff was installed in the first place. People were clamoring for a playoff because teams like TCU and (once upon a time) Boise State were automatically getting left out of championship consideration because they played in “inferior” conferences – despite the fact that they were going undefeated for seasons at a time.

So, if we aren’t selecting the four “most deserving” teams to play in the inaugural CFP, why even bother with a playoff to begin with? Whether it was a simply gaffe by Bowlsby or the actual line of thinking the CFP committee has in the Top 4 selection process, it’s a troubling thought – and backwards, with regards to the idea of a playoff.

I hate to say it (and please don’t give me grief, anti-playoff proponents), but we may already have an argument for an eight-team playoff. So, about that last argument – it actually got me thinking. With the constant debate on who “deserves” to be No. 4 – whether it is Baylor, TCU, or one-loss (and probable Big 10 Champion) Ohio State – why did we agree to four teams for this inaugural playoff?

After all, the argument for “who should be No. 4” sounds an awful lot like “who should be No. 2” in the BCS era – just a little more complicated, considering all three contenders are worthy of a spot to play for the championship.

With that in mind, why didn’t we just expand the playoff to more than four teams? You know – like, eight?

I know, I know, but just hear me out ...

I know, I know, but just hear me out …

The first reason that pops into my head immediately is that much fewer people would be griping over who No. 8 (vs. No. 9) would be. At that point, it almost becomes inconsequential from a national standpoint – unless, obviously, your school is either No. 8 or No. 9. But the decision will receive much less scrutiny than it would at this point, with a four-team playoff. A championship squad could rest with the fifth or sixth-best team in the country.

I understand all of the arguments against it – but if we’re talking about “true champions” and all that, it just makes sense not to leave some of the best teams in the country out just because of an arbitrary cut-off on who plays for the title.

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