The Big 12 says it isn’t making any changes to its football tiebreaker rules, but several teams within the league are currently staring at a different road map to the conference championship game than they were earlier this week.
In a statement issued by the conference on Wednesday, it was clearly explained that head-to-head wins will take precedence in the event that three or more teams end up tied for first place or second place in the final standings.
“In the event of a multiple-team tie,” the statement read, “head-to-head wins take precedence. If all the tied teams are not common opponents, the tied team that defeated each of the other teams earns the championship berth.”
This is important because that clarification could drastically change which teams end up at AT&T Stadium for the Big 12 championship game next month in the event that Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State end up in a three-way tie for second.
Let’s say K-State, OU and OSU all win their remaining games and finish 7-2 in conference play. Under the clarified rules, which value head-to-head results, Oklahoma State would advance to Arlington, Texas because it beat both K-State and OU this season.
While that, indeed, seems like the simplest way to break a tie in that scenario it is a change from how many read the rules previously.
Of course, the Big 12 has stated that it hasn’t changed any of its tiebreaker rules. They were simply poorly written or misread.
Also from the Big 12: “There have been no changes to any rules regarding Big 12 football tiebreaker procedures, which were agreed upon prior to the season and went into effect August of 2023.”
Earlier this week, the wording on the Big 12’s web site made it appear as though K-State would win such a tiebreaker because those three teams didn’t play each other this season. K-State and OU missed each other on the Big 12 schedule. So, unlike a two-way tiebreaker, there are no head-to-head results to use among that trio of teams. The tiebreaker, as previously written, would instead go to record against the next-highest-placed common opponent in the standings, which would almost certainly be Iowa State or Kansas.
Strange as it sounds, the Wildcats could have trumped both OSU (lost at Iowa State) and OU (lost at Kansas) by beating their two main rivals at the end of the regular season. There was also a scenario in which the Sooners would have finished on top had KU fallen down the league standings.
What struck many as odd about that tiebreaker is that Oklahoma State could finish last in that scenario despite owning head-to-head victories over both K-State and OU. How could the Cowboys lose that tiebreaker?
Well, it now seems as though the Big 12 didn’t make its tiebreaker rules clear when the conference adjusted them to accommodate uneven schedules following the additions of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.
The Big 12 provided clarity on Wednesday, but some will not be happy about it.
K-State and Oklahoma both now face more difficult paths to the conference championship game.
The Wildcats are now rooting against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State instead of cheering for them.
Of course, all this talk about tiebreakers could be made moot over the next two weeks. Much could still happen between now and the end of the regular season.
Texas currently sits all alone in first place at 6-1 of the Big 12 standings, while four teams (Iowa State, K-State, OSU, OU) are tied for second at 5-2. Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia also still have hope of winning a conference championship, as they are tied at 4-3. Should every home team in the Big 12 win this weekend, there is a scenario in which eight teams could potentially finish tied for first place at 6-3.
The Big 12 may need to issue another statement to sort that out.
For K-State, the goal remains simple. If the Wildcats win their final two games against Kansas and Iowa State they will have an opportunity to reach the Big 12 championship game. But now they will also be rooting hard for both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to lose.