The Big 12 Conference is a collegiate athletic conference headquartered in Irving, Texas. The conference consists of ten full-member universities. It is a member of Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for all sports. Its football teams compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS; formerly Division I-A), the higher of two levels of NCAA Division I football competition. Its ten members, located in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia, include eight public and two private, Christian schools. Additionally, the Big 12 has 11 affiliate members, eight for the sport of wrestling, one for women's gymnastics, and two for women's rowing. The Big 12 Conference is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in Delaware.|
The Big 12 Conference was founded on February 25, 1994. The eight members of the former Big Eight Conference joined with Southwest Conference schools Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech to form the new Big 12 Conference, which commenced competition on August 31, 1996.
The conference's current 10-campus makeup resulted from the 2010–13 Big 12 Conference realignment, in which Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference, Colorado joined the Pac-12, and Missouri and Texas A&M joined the Southeastern Conference. TCU and West Virginia joined from the Mountain West and Big East Conferences respectively to offset two of the departing schools, bringing the conference to its current strength.
The Big 12 Conference, like others involved in the realignment, has kept its name primarily for marketing purposes; the conference has high name recognition and remains one of the Power Five conferences which are considered the primary contenders to produce a College Football Playoff champion team in any given year. Attempts to rename the Big 12 to reflect its current strength would lead to confusion with the current Big Ten Conference (which currently has 14 teams).
Conference revenue comes mostly from television contracts, bowl games, the NCAA, merchandise, licensing and conference-hosted sporting events. The Conference distributes revenue annually to member institutions. From 1996 to 2011, 57 percent of revenue was allotted equally; while 43 percent was based upon the number of football and men's basketball television appearances and other factors. In 2011, the distribution was 76 percent equal and 24 percent based on television appearances. Changing the arrangement requires a unanimous vote; as a Big 12 member, Nebraska and Texas A&M had withheld support for more equitable revenue distribution.
Big 12 revenue was generally less than other BCS conferences; this was due in part to television contracts signed with Fox Sports Net (four years for $48 million) and ABC/ESPN (eight years for $480 million).
In football, divisional titles were awarded based on regular-season conference results, with the teams with the best conference records from the North and South playing in the Big 12 Championship Game from 1996 to 2010. Baseball, basketball, softball, tennis and women's soccer titles are awarded in both regular-season and tournament play. Cross country, golf, gymnastics, swimming and diving, track and field, and wrestling titles are awarded during an annual meet of participating teams. The volleyball title is awarded based on regular-season play.
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.
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.
Big 12 basketball teams played non-division members only once and in-division members twice during the regular season in a 16-game schedule until the 2012-13 season when its ten teams adopted a "home and away" double round robin 18-game schedule. The conference tournament gave first round byes to the top four teams from 1997 until 2012, and the top six teams 2013 to present.