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NCAA Approves New Football Conference Championship Game Format

The DI Council approves a compromise in its vote, paving the way for a Big 12 Championship Game and quieting realignment talks.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA voted on Wednesday to approve a Big 12 Conference proposal allowing for conference championship games for conferences with less than 12 teams. The move paves the road for the Big 12 to add a football championship game despite only having 10 teams. It also quiets, for the time being, realignment talks that would have forced the league to add two teams before it could hold a league championship game.

The vote passed with an altered version of what the Big 12 originally proposed. The original proposal would allow for full deregulation of division formats and conference scheduling criteria. The compromised criteria allows a league to host a conference championship but will not allow the league to deregulate its conference schedule, which would have eliminated the need for round robin play.

Therefore, the Big 12 will remain a single division conference but will host a championship game at the end of the year. Because they will be forced to remain in a round robin format, the move is a compromise that guarantees the Big 12 Championship will have a rematch from the regular season. The league currently plays a nine-game league schedule whereby all member institutions play one another.

Interestingly enough, only two leagues voted against the proposal, which was a compromise between the hard deregulation leagues of the Big 12 and the ACC against the staunch supporters of the current system (the SEC and Big Ten). The ACC and American Athletic Conference both voted against the format change, with the ACC requesting full deregulation.

Speculation has been rampant about the future plans for the ACC, with some saying the league desires a radical three-division format. Because full deregulation was not approved, the league cannot move forward with those changes. As a result, the conference with Boston College voted against the compromise.

The showdown amongst leagues began with two sides staring down potential changes. The Big 12, which hosted a league title game when it had 12 teams, coveted a return to hosting one on the last weekend of the regular season. But with current legislation, it was prevented to do so by having a lack of divisions. All other Power Five conferences have two divisions and a conference championship game, and every Group of Five league except for the Sun Belt Conference hosts multiple divisions.

The Sun Belt adds Coastal Carolina next season as its 12th team, setting them up for a potential league championship game.

Had the motion not passed, the Big 12 likely would have looked towards expansion, a move that would've likely set off a new wave of realignment. Teams such as Brigham Young, UConn, Cincinnati, and Houston all angled for a shot to get into the league, although, for the time being, it looks like that will be silenced.

That said, the Big 12 could still expand if it wants to avoid having a potential rematch in its conference championship game. Because there are only 10 teams, the league will need a round-robin whereby all member teams will play one another. The only way to guarantee a chance that a rematch won't happen in the Big 12 Championship would be to expand, which would allow the conference to move to two divisions, a format it endorsed until it lost Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Missouri. Despite adding Texas Christian and West Virginia, the league's net loss of two teams abolished the divisional format.