In what seems a very short time, the BYU fans that had been united in the move to independence have been divided by a potential opportunity to join the Big 12 Conference. I conducted a poll of my twitter followers over the weekend, and here you can see the results:
While the poll represents the minds of just 72 individuals, it at least is a fair sampling of the division which has formed among the BYU faithful. There were 25 votes to remain independent, and 29 votes to join the Big 12, should the offer come in the wake of a Texas A&M departure. An additional 18 votes would like to see BYU in a stable BCS conference, sooner or later. The 25 votes to remain independent represent just under 35% of those polled, which means a full 65% of fans are looking for a move to a BCS conference..
On the surface, these numbers are not necessarily divisive, but a quick perusal of my twitter timeline can reveal a bitterness regarding the potential decision to join or not join the Big 12; a decision which BYU administrators may soon face. A simple exchange of differing opinions can quickly escalated into accusations of faithlessness, idiocy, and at least one post mentioned a riot. Emotions are running high on both sides, and it is easy to let a disagreement get out of hand and to let the remarks become hurtful. The following is an attempt to give a fair and unemotional look at the pros and cons of both sides.
BYU to the Big 12
Those on the Big 12 side cite the obvious benefits: inclusion in the BCS, a better home for BYU’s non-football sports, the Big 12 bowl contracts, and the ability to play for a conference championship. The picture is a nice one: the league that had been prepared to include BYU in 1996, but was made to include Baylor, may finally be able to make good with their original plan. BYU would have the ability to play teams like Texas and Oklahoma in football, as well as Kansas and Kansas State in basketball. There is also the thought that since Texas has its own network and ESPN deal, that BYU would be able to retain their TV deal and broadcast rights if they join the Big 12.
The downsides to joining the Big 12? Apparent conference instability, as two schools (Nebraska and Colorado) have departed the conference, and another (Texas A&M) is reportedly seeking to leave as well. Big 12ers will point out that adding BYU may create the stability the conference needs, and if it doesn’t, BYU can always fall back on Independence. Many pro-independence fans feel that breaking the commitment with the WCC would not be fair, as Tom Holmoe made it clear that the WCC was “not a stepping stone” to a greater conference. Big 12ers have expressed two sentiments regarding this, 1) that moving to the Big 12 is worth breaking the WCC deal, or 2) that the WCC will not care because they will recognize that BYU simply cannot pass up this opportunity.
BYU the Independent
The pro-Independence crowd cites the total control which BYU currently enjoys over its own program, as well as exposure for the church. That exposure comes through playing a nation-wide schedule, the unprecedented number of games to be broadcast on ESPN networks, as well as the guarantee of the ESPN deal and retaining broadcast rights for BYUtv (which is not necessarily guaranteed in the Big 12, whose TV deal is with FOX).
The downsides to independence? The Big 12ers point to the WAC heavy schedule and bottom-tier bowl contracts which BYU has been able to obtain, as well as the lack of BCS access (as BYU has no claim on a BCS bowl game, only the national championship, should then end the season ranked #1 or 2 in the BCS). Indy fans will also point out that the WAC-heavy schedule ends after 2012, and the bowl contracts will also improve, as the beginning of independence required a “take what you can get” mentality.
In the end, joining the Big 12 and remaining Independent each have great benefits. Whether one will outweigh the other, we will likely never know, because in choosing one, we may not ever know where the other may have taken us. Both sides have valid arguments for why theirs is the right choice to make. Both sides include risk.
If a decision is made by the BYU administration regarding a move to the Big 12, I hope that the fans will be able to once again be united and support that decision, accepting that the decision will be made by those that have more knowledge than we do. One thing all fans can already agree on? BYU is in a much better place than a year ago.