The times are a changin’: Insights from a Big 12 Commissioner

By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor

The Big 12 Associate Commissioner for Communications Bob Burda shed some light Thursday on some recent conference legislation changes as well as a look at the 2017 football season, regarding the Big 12 Championship game, early signing day and Matt Rhule’s first year at Baylor.

The Big 12 recently passed an experimental rule by activating two 15-second pitch clocks that will be used to deter pitchers and hitters from taking too much time in between pitches while there are no baserunners.

Burda said the Big 12 has been looking for ways to help address some of the issues facing college baseball, including pace of play. The NCAA currently has a 20-second pitch clock, but there has yet to be much enforcement of it, so the Big 12 coaches decided to go one step further and take it down to 15 seconds.

Burda added that the Big 12 has had discussions regarding the implementation of video review, but the conference has yet to be able to determine a minimum standard for using the replay system. The Big 12 is also researching the wiring and technology, as well as placement and cost for each institution to install the equipment for instant replay.

Burda said if instant replay is adopted, the earliest it would go into play would be 2019. Despite the consideration for baseball, there is no current discussion regarding instant replay in softball.

One of the major stories in the Big 12 in 2016 was conference expansion, but eventually the Big 12 and its Board of Directors decided to not invite additional institutions to the conference. Burda said that once the Board of Directors had completed their process and decided against expansion, the agenda was taken off the table and is not an agenda that will be revisited anytime soon.

The Big 12 saw some major changes this football season, adding a conference championship game for the first time since 2010. Oklahoma defeated TCU 41-17 in a rematch of a Nov. 11 matchup, also won by the Sooners.

However, the Big 12 is unique in the way it has structured its conference championship game. It is the only Power 5 (Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, ACC) conference that guarantees its two best teams will play in the title game every year.

Burda said the design of the championship game was to highlight the fact that the Big 12, which only consists of 10 teams, plays a full round robin schedule, making the title game the reward of who a school beat rather than who it didn’t play on its schedule. Burda added that because all Big 12 schools are required to play each other as well as at least one Power 5 school in the non-conference slate, the conference champion should be highly considered and prepared to be given a chance to play in the College Football Playoff.

Burda said he hopes that the Big 12 will continue to engage in high profile non-conference matchups like the home and home series that Oklahoma and Ohio State played in 2016 and 2017. However, due to the nature of scheduling non-conference opponents, which often takes place years in advance, it is difficult to gauge the strength of the non-conference schedule prior to the current season. Regardless of the quality the schedule turns out to be, the goal is to play a respectable non-conference schedule and one that would position that school to be consideration for the College Football Playoff.

In four years, the Big 12 has been represented in the CFB Playoff twice, both times by Oklahoma, falling 37-17 to Clemson in 2015 and 54-48 in 2OT to Georgia this season.

A second major change that impacted not just the Big 12, but all conferences was the early signing period being moved up to Dec. 20-22. While schools were preparing for their bowl season, they were also out on the recruiting trail, trying to lock down and ink the next group of prospects that are set to impact them over the next few years.

Burda said with all change, there is always going to be resistance and there will continue to be dialogue regarding ways to improve the system that is in place. As coaches get used to the change, they will continue to perfect and execute their plans for recruiting as well as their bowl game preparation.

Burda also said the adjustment in signing date allows student-athletes who know where they are attending to school to end the recruiting process and begin to relax and take that next step toward their future.

Despite the change in early signing period, it did not have much of an impact on Baylor head coach Matt Rhule. Despite going 1-11 in his first season, Rhule inked the 23rd ranked class, according to ESPN.

But Burda said he was not shocked by Rhule’s success on the recruiting trail, adding that Rhule has already had a significant impact on the football program and is going to continue for the foreseeable future. It ultimately comes down to the fans and the program being patient enough to allow him to rebuild.

Although the NCAA has already implemented significant changes that have greatly impacted the Big 12 and the rest of conferences, it is still looking to create a new transfer rule that will be more student-athlete friendly. Recently Baylor law professor Jeremy Counseller and Iowa State professor of molecular pharmacology Tim Day co-wrote a proposal that looks to alleviate some of the power of the institution over the student-athlete.

Burda said the proposal is an option seeking to bring uniformity to the transfer rule, but that similar concepts and other proposals are being worked on by a transfer working group that was appointed by the NCAA Board of Directors.

Burda added that the goal is to make the rule more friendly to the student-athlete, but also to make sure all sports are treated fairly, consistently and the same when confronted with transfer issues.