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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Big 12 Conference got what it wanted and showed the smallest power conference in major college football still has some muscle.
A rule change approved Wednesday at the NCAA annual convention will allow the Big 12 to hold a championship game as early as next season if it wants to.
The change scraps the requirement that leagues have 12 members and play in two divisions in order to hold a title game. The new rule lets a smaller league — one with 12 teams in its name but only 10 on the playing field, for example — to play a title game pitting its top two teams, provided it plays a round-robin regular season schedule as the Big 12 does now.
The vote by the NCAA Division I Council passed 7-2. The Atlantic Coast Conference and the American Athletic Conference voted against it. The Pac-12 didn't vote but later said it supported the change.
The Big 12 is the only major conference that doesn't play a football title game. League Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he doesn't know if the change will guarantee the league plays one, but it was determined to have the right to do so.
The decision to play a championship game rests with Big 12 member schools, whose next meetings are in early February, Bowlsby said. If approved this year, a title game could be played as early as next season, but 2017 would be more likely.
"I could not forecast how the school athletic directors, presidents and chancellors will vote," Bowlsby said. "(But) we accommodated for it in our schedule as early as next (season)."
Although the Big Ten initially wanted to keep divisions as a requirement, it ultimately accepted the Big 12's position.
"Instead of complete deregulation there was a consensus we should have some parameters ... without the need to go expand conferences and go through some of the past experiences we've seen," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said.
How the Big 12 would decide who plays the game would still have to be determined. Bowlsby said the new rule only requires the "top two" teams.
Selling the idea to each Big 12 school may not be a slam dunk. Football coaches may not like the guaranteed rematch of a regular-season game.
For example, this past season, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the top two teams at the end of the regular season, could have played in a title game just a week or two after the Sooners beat the Cowboys in the Bedlam rivalry showdown.
"That's hard to swallow to say now you gotta go beat them again to be the conference champion. What if they split?" Bowlsby said. "There will be some years we'd be glad to not have a championship game, and some years when we wish we had a 13th game."
At Texas, one of the league's traditional powers hasn't won a title since 2009, President Greg Fenves and new athletic director Mike Perrin issued a joint statement saying the change "opens up a lot of possibilities that we need to look at closely."
Being the only major conference without a championship game hurt the Big 12 when Baylor and TCU were left out of the 2014 College Football Playoff when both programs had strong resumes to make the final four. Many pointed to the lack of a title game on the final weekend of the season as the reason why.
The Sooners got in the playoff this year as the No. 4 seed while the Pac-12 was left out.
The right to hold a title game with 10 schools likely eases the pressure to expand, something a majority of Big 12 schools haven't wanted to do in recent years.
However, Bowlsby wouldn't rule out expansion.
"We are constantly monitoring the landscape," Bowlsby said. "What it does is keep us from being forced to expand."
Larry Teis, athletic director of Texas State in the Sun Belt Conference, said his league's membership has fluctuated in recent years and, like the Big 12, wanted to control its own championship mechanism.
"You've got to give us all the flexibility to be able to have a championship game, no matter the numbers," Teis said. "Every league should have the right to do their own thing. Let us manage our own league."