Oklahoma heads into the final weekend of the conference schedule with a chance to be Big 12 Champions. But what kind of champions?
Co-champions? If Oklahoma beats TCU and Kansas State beats Texas, the conference will recognize both teams as Big 12 Champions.
Yeah, that's right. Both teams.
But wait! Kansas State beat Oklahoma in Norman.
"In the end, this is what we've got," said OU head coach Bob Stoops Monday. "In the end, you still have to play everybody. It's just the situation we're in right now."
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Right now the Big 12 Conference is a league of 10 teams. Right now the Sooners are playing a round-robin schedule where every team plays each other.
Right now there is no championship game.
If there were a championship game, we'd all be heading to Dallas this weekend to watch a rematch of Oklahoma and Kansas State, with a legitimate trophy presentation at the end of the game.
There would be a podium and streamers and probably a song from Queen involved.
This marks the second straight season the Big 12 Conference has gone without a championship game. Last season, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State met in the final game of regular season with title hopes on the line.
Oklahoma State already sent out press releases before the game with Oklahoma announcing they already clinched a share of a Big 12 crown..
The problem was, if Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State, the Sooners would have been the ones representing the Big 12 Conference in Arizona at the Fiesta Bowl. They would have held the championship tie-breaker over the Cowboys because they beat them head-to-head.
"What happened to the 'One True Champion' and everything that was promoted when I was down (in Dallas) for the Big 12 media day?" Stoops asked the week before OU played Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
Stoops wanted his Sooners to be recognized as the true Big 12 Championship had they beaten OSU.
No co-champions, no rings worn or banners raised for the defeated.
But we all know none of that mattered in the end as OSU pasted the Sooners 44-10, won the conference outright, and tripped to the Fiesta Bowl.
Fast forward a season and Oklahoma finds itself in a very similar situation. This time they aren't as in-control of their own destiny. If Oklahoma beats TCU, they need Texas to beat Kansas State to sit alone at the top of the standings.
If both OU and KSU win out, they would be tied atop the standings at 8-1, with Kansas State heading to the Fiesta Bowl because of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Stoops said he went to bat in the offseason to change the way the Big 12 Conference recognizes its champion. Put it this way, If the Sooners and Wildcats both win this weekend, Stoops lobbied for a scenario where Kansas State would be recognized as the true conference champions.
The conference didn't listen, and if both teams win Saturday, OU and KSU will both be recognized as conference champs.
"I brought that up in our Big 12 meetings," said Stoops of only recognizing the team who represents the conference in the BCS bowl. "They haven't changed anything. You play the hand you have. The rules are what they are. I don't make them."
Stoops may have painted himself in a corner last season with his 'One True Champion' comments. But Monday, he wasn't really interested in debating the merits of round-robin play versus a title game to decide the conference champs.
"I don't know that some of those years when you're undefeated and the other team has three losses in the league, that (a championship game) sets up real well," offered Stoops. "In some cases, it didn't really equate the right way either."
Stoops has always touted his program's Big 12 Championships, and he should. He's also been frustrated those championships haven't been as revered as they should be by fans who constantly demand more success.
Stoops has seven Big 12 titles and they've all been won in a championship game format.
There's no doubting the OU administration would tout this season as Bob's eighth Big 12 Championship. And even though Stoops always seems to be upstanding and principled when it comes to these matters, don't expect him to turn down that Big 12 Championship bonus at the end of the year.
Don't think OU players would turn down a Big 12 Championship ring either.
"It's not like I'm gonna say, 'Oh, well, we're only co-champs,'" answered defensive end R.J. Washington when asked if he'd wear a Big 12 Championship ring should the Sooners be named co-champions alongside Kansas State. "If somebody asks you just say, 'Big 12 Champions.'"
Washington said Monday because of the uncertainty associated with round robin co-champion play, he'd rather be going to Dallas this weekend to settle things on the field with Kansas State.
"I'd rather have the game because nobody can ever say anything," he said. "It's just like when we tied with Texas and Texas Tech. They were like, 'Oh, we're co-Big 12 Champions.' No you're not! We went to the game and we won it. So we're the champs. Now you can't really say that (without a championship game).
Stoops and the Sooners are motivated to play TCU this weekend. It's being billed as their opportunity to win a Big 12 Championship. But a win only guarantees them a piece of a title. They'll have to rely on Texas to deliver them the entire thing.
The shame is the Big 12 Championship is no longer decided on a grand stage like it once was. Even last season, the game was decided in a regular season game, on OSU's home field. The jubilation for Oklahoma State was there after it was over, but the pageantry of the grand stage was lacking.
If both OU and KSU win, neither team will have the satisfaction of being considered a true champion because the conference will recognize both teams as such.
According to Stoops' thinking, Kansas State will deserve that recognition. But they won't be allowed that recognition.
Even players like Washington, who have been a part of a Big 12 Championship game, know something isn't quite right with the way these last two years have played out compared to how it used to be.
"You would like to play them for that and beat them so that they can't ever say they were the champs because they beat you," said Washington. "I think that's gone."
Players in Manhattan certainly share Washington's sentiments, especially since they would be the ones sharing a crown with a team they've already beaten.