Is the Big 12 About to be Squeezed by the SEC and Big Ten with the CFB Playoff?

These are tumultuous times in the college sports world. Realignment. NIL. Transfer portal. The upheaval in college athletics has been unbelievable over the last few years. And now, we enter a new world of a Power 4, no longer a Power 5, after the Pac-12 essentially collapsed in recent weeks.

The Pac-12 may continue on in some form, but the idea that the league will be a Power conference again is not realistic. As a result, we know that the format for the 12-Team College Football Playoff, which is set to begin in 2024, is likely to change.


The original rules of the expanded CFP Playoff included the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large bids. The original idea essentially guaranteed each Power conference a spot in the playoff, along with likely the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion. It made sense.

Now, it doesn’t. I agree. But we’re likely about to see the SEC and Big Ten try to muscle its way into forcing the Playoff format they want on the rest of the sport, with limited reported input from the rest of college football.

According to a recent report from the New York Post’s Ryan Glasspiegel, sources claim that any conference not named the SEC or the Big Ten attempting to get in the way of how the two leagues construct the future playoff is risking “Pac-12-ing themselves” out of the tournament.


How Should the Big 12 Respond?

The first call to make is to ESPN. The Worldwide Leader is paying nearly $500 million per year to air the College Football Playoff. They hold the cards here, much more than the SEC or Big Ten. Now don’t get me wrong, ESPN has always been in the back pocket of the SEC, and vice versa, but it does not behoove ESPN to continue to create a larger gap between the SEC/Big Ten and Big 12/ACC.

ESPN has 2.3 billion reasons to make sure the Big 12 is competitive. That’s the size and amount of the extension the Big 12 signed with ESPN starting in 2025.

If the SEC/Big Ten goal is to basically continue to force a Power 2 in the sport, ESPN would be wise to think of the long-term harm that could cause the company. If the interest in the rest of college football dwindles because the SEC and Big Ten have so separated themselves that no one else is competitive, or has a puncher’s chance at making the CFB Playoff, then ESPN is stuck with two albatross contracts in the Big 12 and ACC into the next decade.

How does that make any sense for them?

Brett Yormark would be wise to make that emphatic pitch to the Jimmy Pitaro and the rest of the ESPN brass.


Push Back on the Propaganda

Then there’s the facts. I won’t deny that the SEC is the best conference in college football, by a long shot. But after that, the gap between the SEC and the rest of college football, including the Big Ten, is larger than the gap between the Big Ten and Big 12.

Where do we want to start? How about with TCU, who beat Michigan in the College Football Playoff last season.

But let’s look historically. Going back to the Big 12’s inception in 1996, the Big 12 is 51-53 all-time vs. the Big Ten, in regular season and bowl games, including 19-17 in bowl games. Here’s the data.

The conferences have split their last eight games the last two seasons as well. So this notion that the Big 12 is going to be a far inferior league to the Big Ten is based on the perception that Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and USC will carry the conference for them. That may be true, but let’s not forget that in addition to Michigan, Utah beat USC in the Pac-12 Conference Championship last season. Just two examples from last season.

Then there’s viewership.

TCU is the only team not named Oklahoma from the Big 12 to make the playoff, but the idea that being a non-blue blood means you don’t get ratings isn’t true. TCU vs. Michigan had 21.7 million viewers last season. That’s the most viewers for a semifinal game since Oklahoma vs. Georgia during the 2017 season.

Go back to 2019 when LSU vs. Oklahoma had 17.2 million viewers. That same year, Clemson vs. Ohio State had 21.2 million viewers.

Even if Michigan is the bigger brand driving more of the viewers, the notion that a Big 12 team not named Oklahoma or Texas in the playoff will dramatically hurt the Playoff or viewership numbers isn’t based in any legitimate data. It’s just simply what the talking heads defending and promoting the blue bloods want to push.


So now it’s on Yormark. In fact, I hate to sound presumptuous (or do I?), but I would plunk this article right on Jimmy Pitaro’s desk. And I wish we could be a fly on the wall to see the look on his face after he reads it. Just a thought.

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