The Big 12 tiebreaker clarification helps OSU, hurts OU

The Big 12 tiebreaker clarification helps OSU, hurts OU

All reasonable people can agree OSU should win a three-way tiebreaker also involving OU and K-State. But the Big 12's tiebreakers caused confusion and its clarification is sure to inflame Sooner Nation.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Nov 14, 2023, 1:45pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Nov 14, 2023, 1:45pm CST

OSU is the beneficiary of a Big 12 football tiebreaker clarification by the conference office — potentially to the detriment of OU.

Welcome to more Big 12 conspiracy theories.

A vaguely worded tiebreaker, written in the offseason after the Big 12 expanded to 14 members, caused the confusion.

The policy in question concerned a potential three-way tie with OU, OSU and Kansas State, each winning out and finishing 7-2 in the league. OSU beat both OU and K-State, which would seem to have solved the problem.

But no. OU and KSU did not play this season, and the confusing wording in the tiebreaker required interpretation.

Here’s how the tiebreaker read for at least three teams tied: “Head-to-head (best cumulative win percentage in games among the tied teams). If not, every tied team has played each other, go to step two.”

Who wrote that tiebreaker? A fourth-grader? More on that gibberish later and the Big 12’s complete failure to produce clear tiebreakers.

But the original three-way tiebreaker interpretation gave OU a path to the title game pending favorable results of other conference games.

Suffice to say, the Big 12 did the right thing by clarifying how it will apply the head-to-head tiebreaker when more than two teams are tied: If one of the teams is unbeaten against all the other tied teams, that team advances.

In 2023, OSU should win a three-way tiebreaker also involving OU and K-State.  All reasonable people can agree on that.

But the unclear nature of the Big 12 tiebreakers caused confusion, and the clarification is sure to inflame Sooner Nation, which is leery of Big 12 decisions as OU leaves the league, headed to the Southeastern Conference. From on-field officiating to scheduling, the Sooners (and Texas, too) have sensed unfair treatment.

Most of that is irrational paranoia — “I don’t believe in conspiracies,” said even OU coach Brent Venables — but the athletic directors’ decision will only feed that fire.

Was the Big 12 in cahoots or just incompetent? My vote is incompetent, on the side of the conference office, along with indifference, on the side of athletic directors. Read the fine print next time.

Heck, even keeping the original interpretation was going to lead to confusion. Succeeding tiebreakers are not clear. The whole document needs a makeover.

But the tiebreaker in question was absurd: “Head-to-head (best cumulative win percentage in games among the tied teams). If not, every tied team has played each other, go to step two.”

If not? What does that mean? If not what? 

Who wrote these tiebreakers? Lawyers, hoping to get more billable hours?

Maybe the Big 12 should hire former sportswriters to write these tiebreakers. After all, we dive into these scenarios every year, and we make our living with words. Some of us do it with simplicity and clarity. Which the current Big 12 tiebreaking rules completely lack.

Heck, maybe the conference should have commissioned the Mountain West to work up the tiebreakers. Here’s the Mountain West policy for the same scenario: “Winning percentage of the tied teams are compared in a mini round-robin format. If, within the mini round-robin, any of the tied teams did not play each other, the group of teams shall remain tied, unless one team defeated all other tied teams.”

See, simple, clear language is possible.

Last week, I corresponded with a Big 12 source to get clarification on what that tiebreaker meant.

Our exchange kept confusing me, but I eventually was told that because OU and K-State did not play each other, OSU’s sweep of the Sooners and Wildcats was nullified. OK. Seemed silly. But at least I had confirmation.

Then Monday, I was told by the Big 12 source that our Saturday night communication caused further discussion in the conference office, leading to the clarification, which is scheduled to be presented to the Big 12 athletic directors in a conference call Wednesday.

The Big 12 rewrote its tiebreakers after Houston, Central Florida, Brigham Young and Cincinnati joined the league in July. In the previous 12 seasons, the 10-team Big 12 played a round-robin schedule, which helps streamline tiebreakers.

The tiebreaker confusion falls at the feet of Scott Draper, the Big 12’s vice president for football. He was hired in September 2022, after serving since 2014 in a similar position at the American Conference. So he should have experience with these kinds of matters.

But truth is, all are at fault. The league office. Athletic directors. Heck, blame us in the media. From now on, we should go through all these tiebreakers and mark up the nonsense. It would save us all a lot of time.

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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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