BYU to the Big 12? A synthesis of 26 articles published in the last two days (and another 31 from earlier in the year)

byu_big12Yeah, I know what you’ must be thinking… “More than 50 articles speculating about BYU and the Big 12? Give it a rest already.” And if you’ve looked at the list: “Holy cow”, or if you’re from Utah “Holy freaking cow!… 4900 words SUMMARIZING one single story. That’s out of control.”

Too true, and I agree with you. But I did go to the effort of finding and analyzing over FIFTY articles, so please, please, just indulge me for a page or two and let me tell you what I learned. Having already compiled the largest repository of BYU/Big 12 speculation available anywhere on the web I’m content to say my piece and then I’ll let it be.

What we definitively know

  • The Big 12 is the only P5 conference with less than 12 member schools
  • The Big 12 is the only P5 conference that doesn’t have a conference championship game
  • The Big 12 is the only P5 conference that did not have an outright conference champion this season
  • The Big 12 is the only P5 conference excluded from the inaugural 4 team college football playoff
  • The Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said many things that he probably wishes he hadn’t

The Big 12 is indeed a P5 conference, but one that has undergone significant changes in the last four years. Colorado and Nebraska split in 2011 (for the PAC12 and Big 10) and Missouri and Texas A&M departed a year later (to the SEC). Rather than replacing all four teams they added two: TCU from the MWC and West Virginia from some other conference. The B12 signed a pretty sweet television deal with ESPN and was content to stay at 10 teams, keeping more money for each school than if they had invited two additional schools.

After that decision was made the BCS was disbanded and the College Football playoff was proposed, approved, and is now being implemented. Current NCAA rules stipulate that a conference must have at least two six-team divisions to have a conference championship game. If a league has fewer teams (than 12) they can apply for a waiver from the NCAA to play a championship game. In light of what happened this weekend we certainly expect the Big 12 to pursue a change to NCAA rules that would allow it to stage a conference title game without sponsoring 12 football teams in its conference and without splitting into two divisions. If that request is not granted than the Big 12 will essentially be forced to expand to at least 12 teams. This will all happen next Spring so there likely won’t be any major announcements coming from the Big 12 higher ups until then.

That doesn’t mean Bowlsby and company are resting on their laurels. Bowlsby has already talked to the other P5 leagues about getting the Big 12 a waiver. He’s also talked to the media, acknowledging that the Big 12 was indeed penalized for not having a championship game and admitting that he was wrong in thinking the “one true champion” thing would work out to their benefit.

So what can we speculate about?

We know the Big 12 is reaching out to potential expansion schools, holding the preliminary discussions that need to take place if they are to invite two, four, or more schools to join the conference. That does not mean they have already settled on whom to invite or even decided that they will invite anyone at all. It simply means they are doing their due diligence, which should be expected. So hold your horses Cincinnati and Memphis, you haven’t gotten an invite… yet.

But we can start to conjecture as to who would be the best fit in the potentially expanded Big 12. The same names are floating around: BYU, UCF, USF, Cincy, Colorado State, Boise State, UCONN, and Memphis. I think it’s safe to say that this is the “short” list of potential candidates. Let’s examine a few arguments/criteria that have been floating around regarding this candidates:

  • The Big 12 has expressed the desire to have a travel partner for West Virginia. If that was the only criteria than Cincinnati would be the most logical choice. Other good “East coast” possibilities include: UCF, Memphis, and possibly UCONN.
  • The Big 12 has also expressed interest in bringing in a school that is financially worth their while (adds money to the conference instead of just mooching off the already in-place lucrative television contract). If that was the only criteria no one qualifies but BYU is definitely the closest (by a long shot).
  • The Big 12 is a relatively weak P5 football conference (compared to the other P4). Evidence for this: they didn’t get invited to the inaugural college football playoff. However, they are a relatively strong basketball conference and a number of their expansion possibilities have very strong basketball programs (e.g. Memphis, UCONN, and to a lesser extent BYU). None of the potential candidates have very strong programs in both football and basketball, but if you went with the strongest combinations your best candidates are: BYU, Cincy… well, actually no one really qualifies (which is why the B12 hasn’t expanded).
  • The Big 12 wants a team that “fits” the profile of the conference and adds to the conference in meaningful ways. BYU improves the SOS for the conference (they are historically ranked higher than more than half the teams), they improve the attendance at football and basketball games, bring more television viewers, bring a new and relatively valuable television market, have great undergraduate academics, and are swell folk. They also would have the fifth largest endowment of B12 schools, 3rd largest stadium size, largest basketball arena, and a really cool television studio.

There are other criteria for expansion but these are by far the most important four. BYU is easily the best fit for the Big 12, which explains why their name shows up on all 50+ of the 50+ articles written about Big 12 expansion recently published. The rumorous reasons for BYU’s lack of invite (e.g. hard to work with, no Sunday play, television contract issues) are very small in the grand scheme of things and hardly constitute a legitimate reason to go with anyone else. That said, geography is a high priority and might be BYU’s undoing.

Where do we go from here?

If it were up to P5 college football coaches, BYU would be in. If it were up to BYU, BYU would be in. If it were up to Boise State and/or Colorado State (potential travel partners), BYU would probably be in. If it were up to me, BYU would be in. Unfortunately, it’s not up to us and we have to play the waiting game with everyone else. It is highly unlikely than anything more than speculation will come from the media in the coming weeks and months but some real decisions will be made in the Spring. In the meantime, let’s publish and read another 50 stories about B12 expansion, I can’t get enough of this stuff.