A conference like the Big 12 should never, ever be left out of a College Football Playoff. However, there are four spots and five power conferences. One conference being left out is the new reality. One could suggest that if TCU and Baylor were Texas and Oklahoma, that one, if not both, would have gotten in. However, chasing rabbits down those hypothetical paths is certainly bad for your health.
Instead, we should be talking about solutions. There are a variety of preventative measures the Big 12 could take to prevent this from happening again. Here are three, none of which are mutually exclusive. In fact, if at least two were adopted, it would be a vast improvement over what is currently in place.
Solution No. 1: No more FCS games
If other teams competing for those top four spots are going to get a 13th game, the Big 12 needs to make the most of their 12. That means no more Samford, no more Northwestern State, no more North Dakota State (KSU and ISU won't mind). Instead, replace those FCS teams with a Power 5 school, or, at the very least, an AAC, Mountain West or MAC team.
Several Big 12 schools already follow this model. Texas and Oklahoma played all FBS competition in non-conference this season, and don't have an FCS school on their calendars moving forward.
Obviously this would be difficult for 2015, but here are a few Big 12-FCS games and potential replacements (all of the replacement schools have an open date on that weekend, and still need a non-conference game for that season). These aren't complete lists, but should start to give you an idea of the kinds of options that may be available.
9/5 - Kansas State vs. South Dakota
9/12 - TCU vs. Stephen F. Austin
9/12 - Baylor vs. Lamar
9/12 - Oklahoma State vs. Central Arkansas
9/12 - West Virginia vs. Liberty
9/5 replacements: Tennessee, Air Force, San Diego State, Miami (FL)
9/12 replacements: Air Force, Miami (FL)
9/3 - TCU vs. South Dakota State
9/3 - Baylor vs. Northwestern State
9/3 - Oklahoma State vs. Southeastern Louisiana
9/10 - West Virginia vs. Youngstown State
9/3 replacements: Kentucky, Marshall, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Memphis, Cincinnati, Tulane, North Carolina
9/10 replacements: Stanford, Marshall, Wake Forest, Memphis, Tulane, North Carolina, USC
Solution No. 2: Rewrite the bylaws, declare a Big 12 Champion
It would have done TCU in this year, to declare a single Big 12 champion, but it would be better for the conference overall. Also, it wouldn't make those damn One True Champion commercials so idiotic.
Solution No. 3: Expand immediately.
And if Bob Bowlsby drags his feet, fire him.
Jon Morse over at Bring On the Cats had a solid article about this earlier Monday.
Who should the Big 12 invite? Jon makes the case for BYU, Central/South Florida, Northern Illinois, Memphis, and Cincinnati. I would suggest BYU, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Boise State and Memphis (pending Notre Dame's decline). Sure, Notre Dame would turn the Big 12 down, but it's worth a shot. They can't say yes unless you ask them, and you should never say no for someone.
I can understand Jon's argument for a Florida school, too. It's a large market and it helps open up more recruiting in-roads into the state. However, with West Virginia already far reaching to the East, and a bit north, I think geographically, Cincinnati makes a better fit (or even ND). So, here's my proposal:
North Division: Kansas State, Iowa State, West Virginia, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Notre Dame (or Kansas)
South Division: Texas, TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas (or Memphis)
In order to remedy Kansas and Kansas State getting split up, the conference could do what the SEC does and have permanent, cross-division rivals.
Cross-division permanent rivals: Kansas State-Kansas, TCU-West Virginia, Baylor-Boise State, Texas-Notre Dame, Oklahoma-BYU, Texas Tech-Cincinnati, Oklahoma State-Iowa State. (If it were Memphis instead of N.D. you flip to Texas-Kansas State, Kansas-Memphis).
There are quite a few options when it comes to Big 12 expansion, and a handful of qualified teams could very well accept an invitation.