Posted by Adam Jacobi
The, um, "newly svelte" Big 12 announced yesterday that its members had approved a new nine-game, round-robin schedule for play, and the conference released its future schedules for play today. You can check out the full conference schedule by team here, courtesy of the Big 12's website.
Now, it's not saying much to say that a round-robin schedule is fair; round robins are inherently so, considering everyone plays everyone else, and any home/away disparities get evened out the next season. That's how football schedules are done, and this is no exception. There are a few points of elegance to the Big 12's new schedule, though, and they warrant mention:
1. Balance. This is obviously Texas and Oklahoma's league now; with Nebraska soon to be out of the picture, they're the two dominant programs, and nobody else really looks structurally capable of challenging them on a year-to-year basis. Thus, the other eight programs would generally regard UT and OU as their "toughest games of the year." And sure enough, nobody has to face Texas and Oklahoma back to back.
What's more, only Texas Tech and Baylor face both the Longhorns and the Sooners away in 2011; everybody else splits those games up home and away every year. And before Tech and Bears fans gripe about that, their teams are also the only ones who get both teams at home the next season and every other season thereafter.
2. No really, the balance. If there is a program which is set up to be the third power in the conference, it's probably Texas A&M. Sure, the Aggies haven't really had their act together on the field for the last decade or so, but that won't last forever. Commissioner Dan Beebe and the Big 12 know that, of course, so not only does nobody have to play Texas and Oklahoma in a row, only two of the seven other schools have to play any two of the Texas/Texas A&M/Oklahoma trio in a row: Baylor (again!) and Kansas, who each see A&M the week before playing Texas. That's it.
3. Rivalries. Probably our favorite aspect of this schedule is the final week, when every program has a traditional rivalry game. Sure, that's when Texas-Texas A&M has always been played, and other rivalries have often (but not always) taken place that weekend. Now, it's set in stone: Iowa State-Kansas State, Kansas-Missouri, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Texas Tech-Baylor and Texas-Texas A&M every final week. That's a good thing.
It's actually surprising the Big Ten didn't push harder for this type of setup; that conference divides up into traditional rivals just as easily, but only Michigan-Ohio State and Nebraska-Iowa are locked in for the final week in both of the first two seasons put forth by the Big Ten. Kudos to the Big 12 for realizing the value of Thanksgiving weekend rivalry games.
4. And finally, a way out. It's funny, the schedules are, according to the Big 12, set up in perpetuity; the 2013 schedule will be the same in 2015, 2017, 2019, etc. And yet, nobody actually wants that, right? College football's not boring by any stretch, but some variety in conference scheduling always helps. Similarly, nobody actually wants the Big 12 to stay at 10 teams forever, right? The Big 12 Championship game was way too much of a cash cow for the conference to just drop it forever, and there's significantly less charm in the whole "conference name doesn't match the number of members" situation when the actual number of members is lower. They'll be back to, uh, 12 members at some point. Count on it.
So, in about 2015 or so, when the conference members start getting a little tired of the schedule ("Wow, it's ISU-Texas to kick off the conference season AGAIN"), that'll be one more accelerant to the process of expanding the conference back to its previous 12. It's all quite perfect, really.