The first football game in conference play was Texas Tech vs. Kansas State in 1996, won by Kansas State, 21–14.|
From 1996 to 2010, Big 12 Conference teams played eight conference games a season. Each team faced all five opponents within its own division and three teams from the opposite division. Inter-divisional play was a "three-on, three-off" system, where teams would play three teams from the other division on a home-and-home basis for two seasons, and then play the other three foes from the opposite side for a two-year home-and-home.
This format came under considerable criticism, especially from Nebraska and Oklahoma, who were denied a yearly match between two of college football's most storied programs. The Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry was one of the most intense in college football history. (Until 2006, the teams had never met in the Big 12 Championship.) Due to the departure of Nebraska and Colorado in 2011, the Big 12 eliminated the divisions (and championship game) and instituted a nine-game round-robin format. With the advent of the College Football Playoff committee looking at teams' strength of schedule for picking the four playoff teams, on December 8, 2015 the Big 12 announced an annual requirement for all Big 12 teams to schedule a non-conference game against a team from the four other Power Five conferences (plus Notre Dame). Per Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby: "Schedule strength is a key component in CFP Selection Committee deliberations. This move will strengthen the resumes for all Big 12 teams. Coupled with the nine-game full round robin Conference schedule our teams play, it will not only benefit the teams at the top of our standings each season, but will impact the overall strength of the Conference.
The Big 12 Championship Game game was approved by all members except Nebraska. It was held each year, commencing with the first match in the 1996 season at the Trans World Dome in St. Louis. It pitted the division champions against each other after the regular season was completed.
Following the 2008 game, the event was moved to the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, being played there in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, the Sooners defeated the Cornhuskers 23–20.
After 2010, the game was moved to Arlington for 2011, 2012, and 2013. However, the decision became moot following the 2010 season because the league lacked sufficient members.
Rivalries (primarily in football) mostly predate the conference. The Kansas-Missouri rivalry was the longest running, the longest west of the Mississippi and the second longest in college football. It was played 119 times before Missouri left the Big 12. As of October 2012, the University of Kansas' athletic department had not accepted Missouri's invitations to play inter-conference rivalry games, putting the rivalry on hold. Sports clubs sponsored by the two universities continued to play each other.
The rivalry between TCU and Baylor, known as the Revivalry is also one of the longest running in college football, with the two schools having played each other â largely as Southwest Conference members â 112 times since 1899. As of the 2018 game, TCU leads the series 55-52-7.
The Oklahoma-Texas rivalry, the Red River Showdown is one year younger and has been played 108 times. This was a major rivalry decades before they were both in the conference, starting the year after the Revivalry in 1900. Currently Texas leads this rivalry 60-44-5.