Why the Big 12 Needs BYU

By: Danny Holmgren

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Let me be clear. I like independence. I think independence has been good to BYU. 2013 looks to be the most exciting (and challenging) schedule that BYU has ever had. Joining one of the major conferences is not, at this point, critical to the livelihood of the BYU football program. Yes, the landscape of college football changes almost on a daily basis and aligning yourself in a position to make sure you’re not left out is important. I get that.  But for right now, BYU is in a good position.

That being said, I think the Big 12 would be crazy not to want to expand from their current 10-team setup and add BYU and one other team. Given the right agreement BYU, in return, would be crazy to not consider it either. BYU is a school based on traditional values much like most of the current members of the conference. It has proven it has a national TV following worthy of an attractive ESPN contract, and is able to actually do more good for the conference than just adding a warm body that allows for a conference championship or even just keeps the conference viable. To not concede the minor points that BYU supposedly is asking for is just not good business for the Big 12.

BYU is a natural fit in the Big 12 culturally. I walked the streets of Austin, Texas last fall when the Big 12 expansion idea was just starting to take off and the BYU talks were first starting. I didn’t meet a single Longhorn that didn’t seem genuinely enthused about the prospect of adding a team like BYU. Even in the mecca of college football, Texas, fans know about BYU both from an athletic point of view and from a cultural. Let’s face it, BYU never had and probably never has a shot of joining the Pac-12. Mormons and liberal granola eaters (plus Utah) don’t typically go together. But two of the current Big 12 schools (Baylor & TCU) are religious schools already, and nearly all the other schools are part of the bible belt with conservative politics and old school family values. You want conservative, old school family values? BYU has won the most “stone cold sober” award how many years in a row now? In all seriousness, BYU is well known for its strict Honor Code and adherence to principle-centered lives. Even with that tight code of ethics, BYU has been a traditional athletic powerhouse, winning 10 national championships in men’s and women’s sports and supporting more than 600 all-American athletes. BYU hosts athletic teams in all of the major events that the Big 12 hosts and could compete for conference titles right off the bat in many of them. Adding a strong, competitive team that instantly can blend in with the other schools in your conference both culturally and athletically?  It just makes sense.

The shuffle of NCAA teams, coaches, and conferences of late is driven by power, money, and fear. Power that comes with having your way and making decisions.  Money that comes with the extremely lucrative TV dollars that NCAA athletics are worth. And fear that not having a big, powerful conference or being part of a big, powerful conference will doom you forever. Many conferences have sought to add new teams to their conferences even though they may not be financially beneficial for what they are getting paid.  Come on, do you really think Utah and Washington State personally account for the $20+ million/year they get from the Pac-12? Of course they don’t! But the conference needs them in order to put decent competition on the field and keep the TV networks interested. BYU has created a national following that is able to attract it’s own national TV contract with ESPN. There’s nothing special about Provo or even the state of  Utah from a market size standpoint. The strength that BYU has is the national following due to its association with the Mormon church. Couple that with the fact that BYU has its own worldwide TV network with state-of-the-art broadcasting technology and facilities and you have a team that is capable of stepping in and adding to both the marketshare of the Big 12 and the revenue potential immediately.  As of 2012, the Big 12 conference has the lowest annual TV revenue of the five major conferences to be included in the new BCS system in 2014.

Conference 2012 TV Revenue
ACC $240 million
Big Ten $236 million
Big 12 $200 million
Pac-12 $225 million
SEC $205 million

The addition of BYU to the Big 12 adds to the financial viability of the conference. TV networks are smart people. The reason ESPN offered BYU a contract to televise all their games the past two seasons is because it is a smart investment to them and the addition of BYU to the Big 12 would certainly be a smart investment for the conference.

What discussions have taken place between the BYU heads and the Big 12 heads is anyones guess.  Rumors point to BYU placing too many demands (no Sunday play, rights to broadcast/rebroadcast all of their games, etc.) as the reason that the Big 12 has not offered to BYU yet. As I stated in the beginning, BYU doesn’t need the Big 12 at this point. 2013 is going to be as great a year of football in Provo as I can remember. But as the landscape continues to shift and hopefully settle, the Big 12 may find itself needing to expand and there’s no one better to look at for expansion than the Cougars.

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