By Brent Blum, CycloneFanatic.com ColumnistFollow Brent on Twitter @BrentBlum
It feels quite a bit strange playing a regular season game in December. And this feeling is justified as it is the first time Iowa State has played a regular season game in the last month of the year since 1973 when Earle Bruce’s squad traveled to San Diego State on December 1st. It is a unique spot for the original Farmageddon.
(Which brings me to a quick aside, rivalry and trophy games have taken a step towards the ridiculous. According to the always reputable Wikipedia, there are over 120 rivalry games. In this list there are three separate "Battle for the Bells" and four separate "Holy Wars." Not to get into a theological debate, but why are Notre Dame and Boston College having a Holy War? — based on the one Theology class I took while in Ames, shouldn’t they be on the same squad in that war? Oh well. Carry on.)
The debate has raged since the implementation of the first conference championship game by the SEC in 1992: to have a Championship game or not?
I had long preferred the championship game. I was 12-years old when the Big 12 implemented the championship format. Unranked Texas battled a highly touted Nebraska squad in the inaugural game at the then TWA Dome in St. Louis (that Dome has had more names than P Diddy.) I was elated when Priest Holmes keyed the Longhorn upset over Scott Frost and company. And at halftime, they had a dude throw a football through an enlarged Dr. Pepper can for thousands of dollars. That was fantastic. I was in love with the championship game. But as I grew older and discovered that there were more interesting things than throwing footballs through cans (such as girls) the Big 12 title game lost some of its luster.
Certainly there has been some entertaining moments in the Big 12 finale over the years. Bo Pelini’s Lindsay Lohan-esque temper tantrum after the ’09 game against Texas was a BIG highlight. "Where’s Dan Beebe! We want answers! Did you know I look like Joe Camel!" Last year’s game was well played and the Oklahoma win over K-State in 2000 was a competitive and entertaining game as well.
But more often than not, the game has been a laugher or worse — ruined the Big 12’s representation in the BCS title game.
There were 15 Big 12 title games. Seven of them were won by three touchdowns or more. These included beat-downs of 54-15, 42-3, 70-3 and 62-21. Not fun.
And potentially the more damaging scenario, several times the Big 12 Championship game knocked members of the conference out of the BCS title game, costing the conference millions of dollars.
The aforementioned 1996 game. If Nebraska wins, they play for the title. (It wasn’t the BCS back then, but the point remains.)
1998: Second-ranked K-State lost to Texas A&M 36-33 in 2 OT’s.
2001: Third-ranked Texas lost to Colorado 39-37. Since second ranked Tennessee lost to LSU in the SEC title game the same night, Texas could have represented the Big 12 if they had won. Luckily, Nebraska was still able to back-door themselves into the BCS finale. And proceeded to get embarrassed by Miami. (Fun side note, the Huskers haven’t been to a BCS game since then. Kansas, Wake Forest, Louisville, Cincinnati, Maryland and Hawaii all have. Enjoy your stadium sell-outs though guys!)
2003: K-State railroaded No. 1 Oklahoma 35-7. This actually benefited the Big 12 as OU still managed to make the BCS title game and K-State went to a BCS game as well. But it was nearly disastrous.
2007: Oklahoma hammered No. 1 Missouri 38-17. It was a very Mizzou like outcome. Hilarious in retrospect. West Virginia and TCU will enter the conference with as many Big 12 championships in all sports as Mizzou: Zero.
The Big 12 title game has provided some memorable moments, but it is arguable that the negatives outweigh the gains. The educated folk reading this are saying, "Well Blum, you are neglecting the fact that the championship game creates millions of dollars in extra TV and ticket revenue." And you are very astute for pointing that out. We will discuss that in a moment.
Taking a look at the championship games lined up this weekend is not exactly a murderer’s row of awesome:
Oregon is favored by 32 points against a UCLA team that just fired it’s coach. Thanks for playing.
LSU is favored by 14 against Georgia and by all accounts could still lose and make the BCS title. Riveting.
Wisconsin is 10-point favorites against Michigan State. This was fun the first time around, but doesn’t impact the BCS title race one iota.
Virginia Tech is a touchdown favorite against Clemson in the ACC title. Let’s be honest, has anybody ever watched the ACC title game? Let’s just give the trophy to VT every year and let them make their annual trek to the Orange Bowl. The Hokies are the Vijay Singh of college football. Boring isn’t a strong enough word.
At the end of the day, the most interesting match-up of the weekend is in Stillwater. In a non-title, title game.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are clearly the best two teams in the Big 12 and it is apropos to have them as the final match-up. I am pumped to get home from Manhattan on Saturday night to tune in.
With the 10 team, round-robin style of the Big 12, for the first time since the conference began, I feel legitimately compelled to find out who the champion is. Being able to square off with each and every team has been extremely refreshing. I have followed the conference more closely this year than ever before and I can’t be alone.
In years past, Baylor and Tech and the other old SWAC schools felt like our third cousins at Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, they were present but the conversation was always awkward, "Hey how ’bout the weather down there. Pretty nifty dust-storm you guys had. So you guys call that dust-storm a haboob…that’s interesting. How bout that Lady Gaga concert?"
They seemed to be in a different conference. This year has been a complete reversal.
CycloneFanatic.com had a 236 postgame-thread for the Baylor-Tech matchup held last week. Everyone was way more interested in the result in Dallas than in the Notre Dame-Stanford game that Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit were faking enthusiasm for. (Although it’s always fun to guess what side Musberger may have laid some cash down on.)
There is some actual investment into what is happening at other schools in the conference.
The two-year on, two-year off schedule and geographical divisions created too big of a divide. We may have been married due to tax write-offs, but we were definitely sleeping in different rooms.
The SEC is facing a large conundrum with their newly minted 14 team league. The power-houses only want an eight game conference schedule. So with six games against your division and two games against the opposite division, a Texas A&M, for example, will visit Florida once every 12 years. How is that healthy?
Yes, it is much more difficult to make a bowl game in the Big 12 than it is in any other conference. Nine conference games is brutal. But ultimately, each team plays the same amount of games, so bowl position between conference schools isn’t any different.
Would you rather go to a pedestrian bowl with a 7-5 record thanks to uninspiring yawners over Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe? Or have an extra competitive conference game added to the schedule and risk missing out on a bowl trip? Arguments can be made both ways.
Iowa State is at an inherent disadvantage to make a bowl because of the annual match-up with Iowa and thus losing the 3rd "guarantee" win, but I’d gladly trade an easy win for a 50/50 matchup with the Hawks. It’s more exciting football.
Which transitions us back to the money conversation. It is obvious that conference championship games are financially beneficial. If they weren’t, the various power conferences wouldn’t have been in a race to add that mythical 12th team over the last 20 years in order to create the title game.
That said, as long as the Big 12 has a marquee match-up like the Bedlam showdown this weekend, TV networks will still compete feverishly to put such games on television. (I’m guessing the TV rating for the OU-OSU match-up is the second highest of all of the games played this weekend, trailing only the SEC title game.) As the Pac-12 and ACC games illustrate this year, just because it’s a title game, doesn’t mean people will drop everything to watch. And I’m no Dwight Schrute, but splitting up TV revenue 10 ways instead of 12 will always equate to more cash. Factor in the potential loss of BCS title game revenue with having your No. 1 squad lose and it may become even more of a wash financially.
Regardless of the dollars and Missouri and A&M’s hokey-pokey act, this has been an enjoyable season of Big 12 football. The most entertaining that I can remember, and it is tough to put a price tag on that.
Let’s just hope Dr. Pepper brings an enlarged can to throw a football through at the Bedlam game, that never gets old.