Oklahoma City The conference championship game is gone, but only some Big 12 coaches will miss it.
The league’s grand finale for the past 15 years was played for the final time in December, done in by the departure of Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the expanded Pac-12.
For some coaches, it was a potential thorn in the side of a run to the national championship. For others, it was an important incentive to improve their program.
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops has seen it both ways.
“Those years when we were undefeated or looking at the national championship right in front of you, it was really difficult to play in that Big 12 championship game,” Stoops said Monday on the Big 12 coaches’ spring conference call. “But those other years where that wasn’t the case, it was incredibly exciting to play in it.”
Stoops won the title game seven times and lost only once, easily the best record of any coach. But he sounds mostly glad to have it out of the way.
The way he sees it, who needs an extra hurdle on the way to a national title?
“And then you look at some other teams in other conferences that weren’t playing a championship game. They were sitting there already with their hand played waiting for the national championship,” Stoops said. “Now we’re in that situation.”
Instead of playing for a conference title on the first Saturday in December, his Sooners this season will face rival Oklahoma State. The shrunken conference also moved Texas-Baylor to Dec. 3 to create a presence on the same day the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and other conferences will crown a champion.
Still, some coaches did note the loss of an event that generated revenue and exposure for the Big 12.
“The championship game and the divisions, I think that’s really good for college football,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I think it’s rather obvious, too, because the Pac-10 went to it — the Pac-12 now, if you will, did the same thing.
“We’re going to miss that. I don’t think there’s any question about that.
Bill Snyder was even more sentimental about the title game going away, saying that Kansas State’s trophy case wouldn’t be so full without the old setup. The Wildcats won four division titles and the 2003 title, upsetting an undefeated Oklahoma team that still played for the BCS title.
Snyder’s team was perhaps the most harmed by the championship. Kansas State was ranked No. 2 in 1998, lost to Texas A&M in the title game and dropped to the Alamo Bowl instead of playing for the crystal ball.
“I would prefer to have two divisions and still play a championship game,” Snyder said. “You looked across the country, and we were one of the few that had a championship game. And now, we’re one of the very few that does not — if there’s anybody else that does not have one.
“Others have realized the value of that championship game. It was worth an awful lot of money, but more importantly it was worth tremendous exposure for our conference.”
For some, though, the potential for another loss is too great.
“I’ve always felt like that our goal as a league should be to have a national champion, and anything that takes away from that we should avoid,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “And we’ve accomplished that by eliminating the championship game.”
The remaining 10 teams will instead play a round-robin schedule against everyone else in the conference — moving from eight conference games to nine. So there’s still one extra chance for a slip-up against a conference foe — and one less in nonconference play.
“It’s going to be hard to go through all those ball games and not stumble at some point,” Texas A&M’s Mike Sherman said. “You hope you don’t, and you work and coach and play that you don’t, but I think you really have to make sure that all your Is are dotted and Ts crossed in every ball game because every one is so significant.
“There’s no chance for a comeback with a playoff. You’ve got to win them all. That’s obviously very difficult in this conference.”