The Big 12 championship game dilemma

With the defections of Colorado and Nebraska from the Big 12 to the Pac-10 and Big Ten, respectively, the college football world continues to speculate on the future of the Big 12 championship game.

Since the league’s title game debuted, it has been firmly entrenched in the championship Saturday package on the first Saturday in December, along with the SEC championship, ACC championship and typically a major Pac-10 game (i.e. USC/UCLA). But if the league sits at 10 members when the Cornhuskers leave after this season and the Buffaloes in either 2011 or 2012 — very likely 2011 — how will the Big 12 close out its conference season?

Well, why not book Oklahoma-Texas on that first Saturday of December every year?

That’s essentially the sentiment sweeping Big 12 Nation — likely to the displeasure of the other eight teams in the future 10-team conference — specifically because of the league’s rights holders (ABC/ESPN) not exactly being ecstatic that they’ll lose a major game in such a prime television slot.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram’s Jimmy Burch recently pondered the possibility of moving the Red River Rivalry to the time slot previously occupied by the championship game in order to keep TV executives happy, and it makes sense only if commissioner Dan Beebe is content without a league title game.

As of now, given the league’s current dynamic, we know that the game will disappear by 2012. We also know that it would only be played in 2011 if league officials petition the NCAA to hold one as an 11-member league (perhaps only 10 if Colorado leaves for the Pac-10 a year early).

But if the league continues to stay together as a 10-member unit, something will have to give in 2012. Shifting the OU-Texas contest to a December finale at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex. will at least give television partner ABC/ESPN, which offered voluntary financial considerations to help keep the league alive, a high-profile game on the same day that rival networks will be broadcasting conference championship games from rival leagues. Given the tendency of these two teams finishing in the top two in the South division, the odds are good that the game will have some meaning on the national landscape — besides being a bitter rivalry.

With Texas Stadium winning the rights to host a championship game that no longer would exist, at least OU-Texas in December would feel like a title game.

“TV is not going to allow the Big 12 not to have a presence on championship Saturday,” Texas head coach Mack Brown said. “So I think we'll work out something to where some of us play.”

There’s no question that Texas and Oklahoma will have some major pull in which teams are booked for that date, just as there’s no question that Brown and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops are ecstatic that the championship game is set to go by the wayside, as neither coach was keen on it.

However, the current agreement for the Red River Rivalry to be held at the State Fairgrounds runs through 2015, so it’s very possible that a schedule and venue change would not be able to take place until 2016. That’s where money comes into play — a factor not foreign to the Big 12.

And that’s where TV executives come right back into play.

Or Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who may have no problem shelling out cash to buy out the contract obligation to the State Fair Grounds in order to bring the game to his backyard.

If that doesn’t happen and the Sooners-Longhorns battle is kept in its place, a Texas-Texas Tech matchup could also be attractive for that December Saturday slot.

Of course, the Big 12 could also expand back to 12 members and keep its title game, which is the direction I still see the league leaning despite Brown, Stoops and some others never being ecstatic about a championship game from the start.

If the league does expand, who are possible fits?

That speculation will never end.

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