The Big 12 stands alone, but it's not abundantly clear yet if this is a good thing or not.
The Big 12 is the only one of the major conferences in college football that doesn't have a championship game at season's end. Not coincidentally, it's also the only one with a true nine-game, round-robin schedule.
From the perspective of crowning a champion, the format is a relative breeze. If a team can get through the league either unscathed or with one loss in a wide-open year, playoff access seems like a sure thing.
Or, is it?
How much does that extra game help or hurt a team's chances? If a four-team playoff began last season (which it didn't) and Baylor and Ohio State were battling for that final spot (which they weren't), how much of a difference would the championship game make?
Or, better yet, how much would an extra game have helped 11-1 Oklahoma State in 2011, who watched Alabama and LSU play a rematch in the BCS Championship Game?
"We like our path to the playoff. I think it's a good thing we don't have our two best teams playing each other on the last date of the season," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest. "One of them's going to lose, and sometimes it's not the right one."
As Ubben notes, of five teams ranked in the top nationally, three lost in the Big 12 title game from 1996-2010.
College Football Playoff is about access—and, in other ways, denying that access to others—and nothing more. It's not about strength of schedule, at least to the degree it has been for the past couple of years. The ACC and SEC have decided to stay at eight conference games, basically daring the College Football Playoff selection committee to force them to change.
The ACC also drafted NCAA legislation that would deregulate conference championship games, according to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. The Big 12 has since hopped on that train, supporting the legislation. Conferences must currently have divisions and 12 teams to stage such a game. If the legislation were to pass, conferences could do away with divisions or stage a championship game with only 10 members.
"It doesn’t foretell any particular outcome for the Big 12," Bowlsby said, via Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News. "It does give us some options that weren’t available otherwise.”
That's what the Big 12 does want: Options. In today's game of college football, conferences have shown a willingness to do whatever is in their best interest for playoff access—and their interest only.
Imagine a year when, say, Oklahoma and Texas finish first and second in the Big 12 standings, respectively. The Sooners sit at No. 5 in the national rankings and have only one loss—to the Longhorns earlier that year.
The Longhorns also had a good year with a 10-2 record, winning their last six games. Beating that Texas team in a rematch sure would look good on the Sooners' resume, wouldn't it? What better way to prove you're playing well at season's end than to beat a team who is one of the hottest in the country?
There are rematches in conference championship games all the time. Why would the Big 12's be any different?
These are the situations that make deregulating a conference championship game enticing to the Big 12. It's not that the conference needs to exercise its options; it's that it can if it ever needed to.
But while the Big 12 is pushing for deregulation, don't expect the conference to change its format anytime soon. Like the ACC and SEC, the Big 12 is waiting to see what the selection committee values and by how much.
It'd be great if every conference played the same number of league games plus a championship game every year. It makes the process that much more cut-and-dry. But college football is a sport where every conference is free to make decisions as it sees fit.
Only when the Big 12 is left out of the playoff because of a lack of a championship game will it change. It's a different starting point from the ACC and SEC, but the end result is the same: Don't change unless forced.
In that sense, the Big 12 is just like everyone else.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.