Since the hoopla of conference expansion began, rumors of conference changes and shake-ups have been rampant. Some have come to fruition, some deals fell apart, and still others were never more than a rumor.
One pairing that has come up over and over is BYU and the Big XII. BYU of course, chose independence over staying in the Mountain West, so it would seem that they would be free for the first attractive suitor that comes to call.
The Big XII, with the departure of Nebraska and Colorado, has ten teams (while the Big 10 is now up to 12…). The conference has indicated that they are quite content to remain with ten teams, but I, for one, believe that the Big XII will suffer by not having a championship game, and they have a smaller footprint, having lost the states of Nebraska and Colorado – not to mention Nebraska’s national following.
When you play EA Sports’ NCAA Football video game in Dynasty Mode as BYU, you will find that after your second consecutive national title (also Heisman player and Coach of the Year awards), that BYU is indeed invited to join the Big XII conference. In the game, it’s a tidy little swap where BYU goes to the Big XII in exchange for Baylor going to the Mountain West. I’ve played the Dynasty through several times, and each time comes the invite to the Big XII.
On the surface at least, it would seem that BYU could use a conference (a BCS conference), and the Big XII could use another member or two. It sounds good on paper, and it evidently works in video-game-land, so why don’t BYU and the Big XII just get together?
What BYU Brings to the Big XII
The Big XII really needs to get back to twelve teams, whether they’d like to admit it or not. The members are happy to split the old pie into fewer pieces for now, but that is the only upside that I can see. The league lost many things: Nebraska, the Denver and Omaha television markets, a championship game, and did I mention Nebraska?
BYU helps make up for the loss of Nebraska. BYU is a team with a national following – the LDS church has more than 5 million members in the United States, and BYU fans can be found in every state of the union. Salt Lake City is the 33rd ranked television market, in between Denver (18), and Omaha (76), according to stationindex.com. BYU is also a team that is tradition-rich, sporting a national championship and a Heisman trophy winner, it has been consistently successful since the early 70’s (with the exception of ’02-’04…but everyone’s had a bad coach, right?) and continues to produce NFL caliber players.
BYU also brings with it a newly completed, state of the art broadcast center, from which it broadcasts high definition programs through its own channel, BYUtv. Texas, and perhaps other Big XII schools, probably wouldn’t mind having access to this technology, if only as a model for what they could build for their own schools. If a Big XII network is in the works – I’m sure BYU’s broadcast center would come in handy, at least for BYU games.
BYU brings a tradition-rich, perennial top 25 program, millions of television viewers, and fans that travel well in most parts of the nation. Adding BYU is a slam-dunk for the Big XII. The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel has at least twice written that the Big XII should go after BYU (and either TCU or Louisville), back in November and again this month. The creators of the Oklahoma Sooners fan forum, LandThieves.com shared with me via twitter that his perfect scenario for the Big XII is to get back to 12 teams, and he would like to get BYU and Arkansas. Everyone seems to agree – BYU really is a perfect match for the Big XII.
What the Big XII offers BYU
In the Big XII, BYU would be a BCS school. The road to the national championship is paved by an undefeated season, if you’re in this conference. Win the conference and you’ve got a guaranteed spot in a BCS bowl. Almost win the conference, and in a good year, you might still have a spot as an at-large team. Even in years when they don’t go to a BCS bowl, there are deals with the Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl, and Alamo Bowl, as well as others. The Big XII offers quality opponents, many with tradition-rich programs in football and/or basketball. All of BYU’s sports could go to the Big XII, instead of having the rest split off from football. BYU would get a larger payout from the Big XII than they did from the MWC. BYU would get BCS access, better bowls, more money, and a guaranteed lineup of quality opponents.
What BYU has as an Independent
Many non-BYU fans don’t understand why BYU wouldn’t jump at the chance to join a BCS conference if it came calling. A BCS conference offers all of the things I just outlined, and BYU has what BCS conferences are looking for. It seems like it’s a win-win, except that BYU has already set up a pretty nice independence deal. While BYU only recently “declared” its independence, the Cougar athletic department has made it clear that they have been eying independence for years, and that Utah’s jump to the Pac12 was simply the catalyst for a change that had been in the works. The athletic department has made it clear that the main goal for the organization is to get maximum exposure for the sports programs, and therefore the school and also for the church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
BYU’s independence offers them more freedom and money than they can get in any conference.
BYU has their own 8 year contract with ESPN, which will reportedly pay between $800,000 and $1.2 million for each home game during each of those 8 seasons. That does not include money derived from ticket sales, concessions, and other sponsors. BYU has rights to rebroadcast all events aired on ESPN, and can use that state of the art broadcast center to produce and broadcast any other sporting events not picked up by ESPN.
BYU can schedule anyone willing to play them, anywhere in the country. For a team with a national fanbase, that’s a great positive. BYU has been able to schedule marquee games across the country. Even in just their first year they have Texas, Ole Miss, Oregon State, and Utah. They also agreed to a six game series with Notre Dame.
Most of BYU’s non-football sports found a home in the West Coast Conference, a conference made up of private, religious universities, which have no problem with Brigham Young’s policy of not playing sports on Sundays.
Why BYU and the Big XII may never work out
Outsiders will argue that BCS bowl access is the biggest factor that influences conference affiliation, but BYU is unique in that respect. While the school is hoping to work out a Notre Dame-like exception granting greater access to BCS games, the decision is not likely to affect BYU’s independence one way or the other, as BCS access is not their main goal. BYU’s biggest goal is exposure. With Independence, BYU has found the best way to get exposure for the school and church – freedom in scheduling (teams and dates) as well as freedom in broadcasting. They also are free to find conferences for their non-football sports that will allow them to not play on Sundays, a thing which the Big XII is not likely to do. To top it off, they have found a lucrative television deal just for them.
BYU simply is happy to be single, because it has found more exposure, money, and freedom than can be found anywhere else. BYU is perfect for the Big XII, and there certainly is potential for a happy relationship to be made. But it does not seem that the Big XII can offer BYU anything much better than what they have already found as an Independent.