Big 12 tiebreakers were copied straight from the Pac-12

Big 12 tiebreakers were copied straight from the Pac-12

The Big 12 tiebreaking chaos isn’t over, and now we know why — the conference got its policies from a most dubious source.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Nov 21, 2023, 12:15pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Nov 21, 2023, 12:15pm CST

(This originally appeared in Berry Tramel’s newsletter. Subscribe now)

The Big 12 tiebreaker saga is almost over. But only because the Big 12 season is almost over. It’s not because there’s much clarity.

And now maybe we know why.

A Big 12 source told me that the Big 12 tiebreakers were lifted and copied straight from the Pac-12 regulations. I kid you not. 

A league that has made a mess of everything from officiating to marketing to television negotiations — and next summer will go out of business — supplied the Big 12 with some rather important policies. The Big 12 even called the Pac-12, I’m told, and warned the Pac of its potential problems.

But who cares about the Pac, which has a quite-clear situation with its title game — Washington is in, against either Oregon or Arizona. 

If all the favorites win this weekend — Texas (home vs. Texas Tech), OSU (home vs. Brigham Young), OU (home vs. Texas Christian) and Kansas State (home vs. Iowa State) — then it’s Texas-OSU in the Big 12 Championship Game. That’s because the Longhorns would have finished first place in the standings at 8-1, and OSU would have won a three-way tie at 7-2 with OU and Kansas State, because the Cowboys beat both the Sooners and Wildcats.

But remember how we got there. The poorly-written Big 12 tiebreaker made it seem to some (most?) that head-to-head wouldn’t matter, since OU and KSU weren’t scheduled to play.

That’s absurd, of course. And the Big 12 last week clarified that scenario, saying yes, OSU would advance.

If this fiasco becomes a great teaching tool for the Big 12, then there’s been some value in this mess. But a mess it’s been and a mess it still is.

For example, if Texas loses to Texas Tech on Friday, and OU, OSU and Kansas State all win, creating a four-way tie for first place, the tiebreaker says go to the next team in the standings that all four played.

That would be Iowa State, which beat OSU but lost to Texas and OU, and would have lost to K-State under that scenario. So OSU is eliminated, and the next step would be going to how teams did against Kansas. Since OU lost to KU, while Texas and KSU beat KU, then the tiebreaker is down to two.

And two is what you need, in a four-way tie for first. You would think that means a Texas-Kansas State title game.

But no. Here’s how the Big 12 rule reads: 

“If at any point the multiple-team tie is reduced to two teams, the two-team tie-breaking procedure will be applied.”

Most interpret that rule — and a Big 12 source agreed — that even after getting down to two teams for two slot in the championship game, the tiebreaker continues, so that Texas would be the No. 1 seed. Then the tiebreaker resets, and OSU is back in the running and indeed would win the next step.

That makes no sense at all.

“Very ambiguous,” wrote the operator of, a website dedicated to explaining tiebreaking scenarios in college athletics. He goes by the name Mr. Ed and prefers to stay anonymous.

“If there is a three-way tie and teams A and B beat team C in a tiebreak step, is the tiebreaker actually reduced to two teams at this point?”  he asked. “I’m assuming they are thinking yes, and I restart the tiebreaker between teams A and B.”

So the guy who makes these tiebreakers his passion is confused? What are the rest of us supposed to do?

This much we know. 

If Texas beats Texas Tech on Friday to secure the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Championship Game, OSU will join the Longhorns in Arlington, provided the Cowboys beat Brigham Young on Saturday. If OSU loses to BYU, OU makes the title game with a victory Friday over Texas Christian. If Texas wins and both OU and OSU lose, Kansas State gets in, provided the Wildcats beat Iowa State.

If all three lose? The potential for a six-way tie for second place exists, by which I assume the tiebreaker would be a demolition derby in Joplin, Missouri.

The Big 12 has not produced a spreadsheet with every scenario but promises one after the Friday games of Texas Tech-Texas and OU-TCU

OU remains in contention with either a win or a loss against TCU.

How do the Sooners stay in the hunt with a loss? They would need that multi-team tie that also would include OSU, KSU and Iowa State (at least), and the tiebreakers would be determined by who else might be involved (Tech and/or West Virginia).

Who would win? I’ll leave that to Mr. Ed and the Pac-12 scriptures.



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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].
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