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With no Playoff teams, where does the Big 12 go from here?

It’s a dark day in Waco, Fort Worth and the Big 12’s Las Colinas, Texas, offices as the conference’s co-champions Baylor and TCU were left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

In jumping Ohio State over TCU and keeping them ahead of Baylor, committee chairman Jeff Long said it was the Buckeyes’ 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin that proved the difference.

Jeff Long, CFP committee chair: “It was really about Ohio State’s performance that propelled them ahead of Baylor and TCU.”

— Tim May (@TIM_MAYsports) December 7, 2014

The Big 12, though, has no such championship game, no 13th chance for its champion to improve its resume. Commissioner Bob Bolwsby, previously steadfast in his commitment that his league did not need a championship game, sang a different tune once the music stopped and the Big 12 was left without a chair.
Bowlsby on ESPN: It’s clear we were penalized for not having a postseason championship game. It would have been nice to have been told that. — Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) December 7, 2014

But the Big 12 more than any other league knows the danger championship games provide. The conference was denied chances at a national championship game appearance in 1996 when No. 3 Nebraska lost to unranked Texas, in 1998 when No. 3 Kansas State lost to No. 8 Texas A&M, in 2001 when No. 3 Texas lost to No. 9 Colorado, and in 2007 when No. 1 Missouri lost to No. 9 Oklahoma. Losses elsewhere in the rankings would have put the Huskers and Wildcats in their championship games, and Missouri would have been in had they sat home instead of traveling to San Antonio to face the Sooners for a second time. And in 15 years of holding a championship game, there was not an instance of a Big 12 team using a conference championship win to play itself into a title game it would not have otherwise participated in.

So while it’s easy to assume today a Baylor-TCU rematch would have vaulted the winner past Ohio State, there’s just a likely chance that a 9-2 TCU team, for example, knocks a 12-0 Baylor team out of the 2015 Playoff.

Add in the fact that, at present, the Big 12 would have to expand to 12 teams to even hold a conference championship, and a title game should be seen as an absolute last resort. Bowlsby confirmed Sunday his office is appealing to the NCAA to hold a championship game within a 10-team league, and expects an answer within six months. If that passes, the Big 12 is then presumably asking its champion to beat a likely Top 10-caliber team twice to reach the Playoff. If it doesn’t, the conference may look at expanding with - gasp - Cincinnati and Memphis. As if adding mid-major schools that aren’t even the most popular programs in their own cities is what the league needs to battle the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12.

In the mean time, the Big 12 - its league office and 10 member institutions - must looks itself in the mirror and ask why Baylor and TCU were left out. In truth, the conference got shut out due to self-inflicted wounds that had nothing to do with the lack of a championship game. There are three things the conference can do immediately, as in the next three weeks, to prevent this from happening again.

1) Drop the One True Champion nonsense. It was apparent Sunday that the selection committee treated conference champions like coaches treat quarterbacks: if you have two of them, you don’t really have any. The One True Champion slogan - and its $415,000 price tag - sounded smart in the pitch meeting, but it did nothing but bite the conference in the rear at decision time.

Here’s Bob Bowlsby in July being asked by @jasonkersey about #OneTrueChampion: (h/t @jonathanshank @sarahebowe)

— Zach McCrite (@BigEZ) December 7, 2014

2) Install non-conference scheduling mandates. The SEC and ACC have already created policies requiring their members to play at least one game against a Power Five opponent in non-conference play by 2017. The Big 12, famously less bureaucratic than its Power Five peers, has a gentleman’s understanding to do the same, but no official policy written within its bylaws. Most schools comply on their own already, but Baylor does not. It’s time for the conference to stop giving the Bears (and other members so inclined) that option. They’ll never admit it, but Baylor’s cream-puff schedule is dragging down the rest of the league.

3) Win its New Year’s Six bowl games. They’re not Playoff games, but the Big 12 has a great opportunity to improve its chances for 2015 beyond if Baylor beats Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and TCU does the same against Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.

Committee members are human, and it’s hard to not to wonder if they were swayed by Ohio State and its nationally-recognized brand name in the end. Brand names matter.

Some commentators leaving Big 12 out of top four. Would they be doing same if it was Texas and OU instead of TCU and Baylor? #brandnamebias

— Scott Stricklin (@stricklinMSU) December 7, 2014

Getting a 1-0 edge over both the SEC and the Big Ten, which would all but clinch the Big 12 occupies 40 percent of the year-end Top 5, is important. The Big 12 had a chance to pull even with the SEC in 2008 after Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech all finished 11-1 in the regular season, but Oklahoma lost the BCS national title game to Florida, Texas Tech did the same against 8-4 Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl, and Texas squeaked by Ohio State as a unanimous favorite in the Fiesta Bowl.

The conference can’t let this opportunity to reshape itself slip by, lest it run the risk of being on the outside looking in again 365 days from now.