Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby watches from the sidelines as Texas Christian plays host to Baylor at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. (Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)
Photo: Max Faulkner/TNS
Photo: Max Faulkner/TNS

After shedding questions about instability, Big 12's next challenge is winning titles

Other than that, the league wrapped up two days of interviews gabbing mostly about routine football topics. Will someone beside Oklahoma win the conference? (No) Is this the year Texas reverses fortune? (By Texas standards, the lean is no).

What a nice trend for the Big 12.

The hot button issues of realignment, expansion and the league's place among Power Five conferences, which had appeared on less solid footing, made for more spirited kickoff functions in recent years. They also covered the conference in instability during the football season.

That's no longer the case. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby even joked about not receiving any questions about expansion.

The Big 12 would love to find itself in the winner's circle more often, but business is good and prospects for a healthy future haven't seemed brighter.

Not long ago, the conference went through a stretch where it seemed disadvantaged by not having a league-wide television network, by having the smallest number of schools and no conference football title game.

But in the two years after the league decided not to expand, the Big 12 has been playing offense.

No Big 12 Network? League schools retain their third-tier rights worth additional millions. When conference distribution totals are revealed usually in the spring, the Big 12 holds its own in comparison to other leagues without including its third-tier totals.

Competitive revenue totals is the conference's most important adhesive. Similar missions and geography is why college leagues formed originally. Football media revenue fueled realignment. Distribution from the Big 12 to its 10 schools totaled $36.5 million per school for 2017-18 without third-tier income, which appears to be third among the power conferences.

The league now considers its structure a strength. Banners hanging at The Star, site of the media gathering and practice home of the Dallas Cowboys, tout the schedule formula.

"Only FBS Conference With a Round Robin Schedule"

"Every Game Matters"

"No Divisions"

About the set-up, coaches aren't exactly thrilled, especially those that are playing two Power Five opponents among their three non-conference games. Among them is West Virginia, which plays Tennessee and North Carolina State.

"It's not quite fair that we have to play that schedule and then you have schools in other conferences that play nine," West Virginia coach Dana Holgerson said. "They play nine Power Five schools. It's uneven. But we're going to keep doing it."

The Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences play eight league games, the Big Ten and Pac-12 play nine, and this will continue to be a point of contention in college football. But with the SEC and ACC the only conferences represented in all four College Football Playoffs, don't expect change on their end.

The Big 12 also was helped by some recent competitive success. The league was alone in advancing teams to the College Football Playoff and men's Final Four, although the years without a national championship in each sport have grown to a decade and beyond.

That probably deserves more attention that it's getting, especially in football. Oklahoma has been the league's lone CFP participant in four years. All of the other conferences have had two. Only the Big 12 hasn't played for the championship.

Kyler Murray is set to replace Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield at quarterback, although Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said the job isn't his yet. Still there's enough unknown about the position to downgrade OU, if only slightly from national title contender.

Bowlsby talks about the Big 12 winning national championships, not playing for them, and he's looking for his first trophy presentation in a high-profile sport during his tenure.

Texas living up to its historical strength would help. The Big 12 was at its football best in the previous decade when the Sooners-Longhorns game effectively was a national semifinal contest. Winner played for the BCS title.

But when that becomes the biggest concern and not the uncertainty of previous years, the Big 12 finds itself in good shape.

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