FRISCO, Texas — The message carried all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the noggin.
In case the 500 media members who descended on The Star – the Dallas Cowboys’ opulent $1.5 billion practice palace – for Big 12 media days had forgotten, their memories were quickly jogged.
On a massive screen suspended above the press conference podium, the words shot off the screen, Star Wars-style. “THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME RETURNS.” May the force be with you – and please state your name and affiliation.
In 2017, in an era when reality television is obviously scripted and the President of the United States constantly decries the impact of fake news, perception and reality are proving a combustible mix. What is truth, really? Everyone has their own version.
So, here’s the cold, hard truth – the Big 12 needed a conference title game. Everyone from the coaches to the fans to the league office to the media covering the league agreed on that. Twice in three years the league has been snubbed in the College Football Playoff.
How dire was the situation for the Big 12? That’s where the truth varies.
To Bob Bowlsby, the league wasn’t – and isn’t – in crisis. In fact, the Big 12 commissioner bristles (as much as the well-coiffed Bowlsby can ever bristle) at the notion that the league is the thumb of the Power 5 mitt.
Bowlsby is a buttoned-up guy. Both his pressed suits and his press conferences remain perpetually crisp and smart. He’s undoubtedly a hellion at Words With Friends, as he effortlessly sprinkles 10-dollar doozies like “panacea” and “aberrational” into his responses without blinking.
But if anything can (mildly) unruffle the commish, it’s that darn media bashing his league.
“I don’t – I really – it gets a little tiresome because I know we play at a high level,” he said, furrowing his brow.
Bowlsby’s take? It’s been only three years. There is no need to sound the panic alarm. These things are cyclical. He called the CFP era “a small sample size.”
Perhaps. But Bowlsby is not removing a slide from the microscope and using that miniscule sliver to his advantage, too. Like when he noted that the Big 12 led the 2016-17 postseason in scoring defense.
Count ‘em, that came in six bowl games. In the 120 games that Big 12 teams played before that, it ranked fifth among the Power 5 in scoring defense.
You see? When you squint your eyes, you can make anything look pretty.
Promoting the idea that everything old is new again, Bowlsby pointed at the ACC. His stat of choice? The fact that the ACC went “2-13” in BCS bowls when that system was in place, yet is now presumed to be “on top of the heap.”
That’s pretty close to the truth. Bowlsby was slightly off on the stat – the ACC actually went 5-13 in BCS games – and the league has ascended to a much higher place now. (Thank you, Dabo Swinney and DeShaun Watson.)
So, yeah, things change. Bob’s right about that. Nevertheless, such truth guarantees nothing as it pertains to the Big 12’s postseason landscape. Just because the winds of change can swirl your direction doesn’t mean they will.
The critics said that (some) Big 12 schools needed to play tougher nonconference schedules. So the league went out and enacted a rule that demanded at least one pre-conference game against a Power 5 team or Notre Dame. They said the conference needed a voice on the committee. So the CFP folks added Texas Tech’s Kirby Hocutt.
The committee noted the absence of the conference title game. The Big 12 petitioned for one and will stage it this year. Stick that in your 13th data point, right?
Blah-blah-blah. Talk is cheaper than a room full of sportswriters. What the Big 12 really must do is shut up and win some big games.
“Make no mistake – it’s not about making the playoff,” Bowlsby said. “It’s about winning national championships. That’s what we want to do.”
Keep it real, Bobby.