The debate as to why BYU will not play football in the Big 12 Conference lingers on. BYU Athletics Director Tom Holmoe insists he has not been contacted by the Big 12, or anyone associated with the conference.
The primary reason anyone is having this debate, especially with the Cougars now attaining football independence, begins with a simple statement: Brigham Young University is still not in the Bowl Championship Series.
This irritates even the heartiest BYU fan, mostly because their rival to the north, the University of Utah, is now in the BCS. It eats at the everyday Cougar fans to think their rival in red could possibly forget about them, the rivalry itself, and move on to bigger and better things.
Yet, is it possible to think that BYU fans may be overthinking things just a bit?
Despite the notion that some argue the Utes only got in the Pac-12 Conference because Texas did not–and it’s a widely held assumption considering Utah received in essence a 2-year penalty to join the Pac-12–things may not be as bad in Cougar Land as some might think.
Not only are the Cougars not in a BCS conference, they’re now independent in football. While some say BYU is like Notre Dame when it comes to athletics, religious affiliation (ND is also a private religious university) and following (BYU has legions of followers around the globe like ND), others say the school is missing out on the big picture (read: enough money to swim around in, in the Big 12).
But when you play by your own rules, and you dictate the terms of your agreements, it’s easier to get what you want and it means more in the long run. That’s what BYU has in place right now as a football lone wolf.
Let’s take the common sense route for a moment.
Where moving to the Big 12 does make sense, is that BYU now plays all other major sports in the West Coast Conference, which to many is taking a step backwards from the Mountain West Conference. (By comparison, Notre Dame plays its other sports in the Big East.)
While the WCC is chock full of private religious schools (most notably Gonzaga), BYU is far and away going to be the conference’s premier school. No WCC school has a 20,000 seat basketball arena, for example.
Is having the biggest facilities really enough for BYU to remain as the top school in a small conference and forego the Big 12? Being top dog is nothing new, really; BYU was the top overall program in the MWC, and in the WAC during the 1990’s and 2000’s.
To some, however, maybe being a bottom-feeder in a bigger fish pond like the Big 12 is the easiest way for the school to make money in other sports. BYU follows the leads of the Texases and Oklahomas, and like Utah in the Pac-12, shares the wealth.
OK, back to the football debate.
Do the Cougars roll the dice, continue to bet everything on its fledgling, yet innovative television network and ESPN and position itself for a long, possibly harrowing run as a football independent?
Here are five reasons BYU will not play football in the Big 12:
5. Recruiting. What would BYU possibly have to gain from recruiting in Texas? A lot. However, once you consider that the academic standards (and head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s for that matter) trump most Division I schools by a mile, does it really matter if the Cougars miss out on a blue chip prospect when he probably couldn’t make grades, anyway? Not only that, there’s the thing most like to call the Honor Code, a rigid set of rules and guidelines that is hard to follow by any ecclesiastical, moral and ethical standard. Finally, the school already has a strong presence in Texas. Now that it’s a football independent, it can literally pick and choose opposition, and with the ESPN deal, still get the exposure it needs to stay with, and possibly surpass, even Utah. BYU plays Texas on Sept. 3; it played Oklahoma last year in Cowboys Stadium. You don’t see Utah doing this, not even now.
4. Rivalries. If you think keeping rivalries will be difficult as an independent–and it actually seems like it may be easier for BYU–try doing so in the Big 12, when the Cougars have to endure the type of schedule that their red rivals up north do. Utah had to boot Utah State from its schedule; might BYU have to do the same if it’s a member of the Big 12? BYU has had the best of both worlds, it seems, positioning itself to play big-money games while still working out ways to play Utah and Utah State, and that’s something the Utes can’t say, because the boys in red are not entertaining the Logan boys for the foreseeable future. Can you honestly see the Cougars forming a year-in-year-out rivalry with Oklahoma State? Or, even with Texas? Yes, it doesn’t make sense. Why not customize your schedule to best befit your fan base, and have the opportunity to play all over the country, instead of having to travel to places like Austin, Stillwater and Lawrence?
3. Power. BYU has long been the kind of school that appreciates doing things outside the box, away from the hard looks of other area colleges and universities. BYU will never jump into something without taking a look at the big picture. You can bet the school looked at what the Big 12 might offer. It may even look at the conference again, but the answer will be the same. The fact of the matter is this: BYU does not see itself as a football power in the Big 12. It does as an independent. BYU sees itself on par with Notre Dame in football and there is little reason to believe that going to the Big 12 would benefit the Cougars in any way. Besides, how powerful could BYU have been in a Big 12 Conference that in one year is on the verge of losing Texas A & M and possibly Oklahoma?
2. Television. BYU worked out a deal earlier this summer that stipulates whatever games ESPN will not carry on its family of networks will be aired by its flagship station, BYUtv. Both the ESPN family of networks (which includes ABC) and BYUtv reach households nationwide. Not only that, the deal with ESPN trumps the previous arrangement BYU had while in the Mountain West Conference by millions of dollars and greater national exposure. By comparison, when you look at the deal that Utah has with the Pac-12, it will take years for the Utes to get the exposure that the Cougars are already receiving by being a part of the ESPN deal. The same would be true of any deal if the Cougars were in the Big 12, as the school would have to share its TV revenue with other conference members (10 at present) and possibly be under the same sort of deal that had many Utah fans and followers up in arms when the Utes’ TV deal with the Pac-12 was announced. Not even Utah can say that all of its games will reach a national audience; games not covered in its television agreement with the Pac-12 will be carried on KJZZ-TV, a Salt Lake City TV station.
1. Money. It seems BYU very closely followed Notre Dame’s lead when it boiled down to what the school could gain from becoming a football independent. The ability for BYU to schedule opponents like the Fighting Irish through the year 2020, and six times in the next 10 years, shows that the Cougars are most interested in making money.
Being able to keep its broadcasting rights also boils down to bringing in more green to the school. In the final analysis, BYU is looking for ways, especially in its football program, to monopolize TV revenue and exposure. By doing both, the school does more over the long haul than Utah does in the Pac-12, by playing it smart and using every avenue and means necessary to be in the same league as Notre Dame. By being an independent, BYU is the polar opposite of Utah, the Pac-12 and even the Big 12 because it doesn’t have to share any revenue with any other member institutions.
Does this mean that BYU will be any closer to a BCS national championship? Not in the first few years, anyway. The Cougars had to schedule, on average, four to six games with schools from the Western Athletic Conference just to make ends meet.
However, when you’re looking at why BYU went independent in football, playing a few soft games on the schedule has little to do with why it will stay a lone wolf in cougar’s clothing.
The potential for success is worth the risk, and that’s something BYU will bet on, even if walking this perilous path alone means the next few years might be filled with a few struggles.