When it comes to college sports, BYU is an organization that finds itself on the outside looking in. Generally speaking, independence has worked out well for BYU in the last few years considering the challenges they have faced in going it alone in football. Now, once again, the college football landscape is poised to make another major change this summer that threatens BYU's ability to continue to compete at the highest levels.
Earlier this week Mike Slive, commissioner of the SEC outlined a plan to restructure Division I football into a subdivision for the 65 teams that make up the big five conferences, or as the conferences refer to themselves; the equity conferences. And if you haven't heard, the NCAA D-I Board of Directors endorsed this plan on Thursday. The purpose of restructuring is to provide the five equity conferences with more autonomy and self-governance. Additionally, Slive wants to maintain the student-athlete profile instead of allowing students to become employees of the school as the Northwestern case was decided. The problem for BYU is that they will likely not be included in the new subdivision if things remain the way they are now.
Athletic Director Tom Holmoe and Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall have stated repeatedly that the end goal of BYU football is to play at the highest levels of the sport in order to maximize the exposure of the school and the program. That is the reason the Cougars have partnered with ESPN, scheduled more non-Saturday games, and played in four different time zones during each season since going independent. If a new subdivision is created, will it include the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC. No doubt Notre Dame will included as well.
THE BAD NEWS
BOWL GAMES: The new subdivision is guaranteed to keep the most valuable bowl games. If the Cougars are left on the outside looking in, then they won't even be able to talk about playing in these bowl games, even if they have an elusive undefeated season.
SCHEDULING: BYU will have a much more difficult time scheduling games against teams in the equity conferences. Already the Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine game conference schedules and the SEC is following suit. If the trend continues, the ACC and Big Ten will do the same. This will make it more difficult for BYU to schedule schools from these conferences as each team will be playing one more in conference foe. On top of that, Notre Dame's scheduling agreement with the ACC, as well as other traditional rival obligations, will make it more difficult for BYU to play their independence compatriots.
RECRUITING: If BYU is unable to put itself in a position to be included in the new subdivision, its football program will be diminished greatly. The best high school football players want to get the most out of their college experience. They will want to be paid. They will want to play in the best bowl games. They will want to have the ability to meet with agents to help them decide whether or not to come back for another year. They will want the option to finish their schooling with a scholarship that continues after their playing days. If BYU is unable to offer those things, then they will lose the best recruits.
HIGH PROFILE WINS: The most important thing for BYU to have done up to this point, and has failed to do, is build an impressive resume of wins against the very teams that are in the equity conferences already. Sure they curb kicked the Longhorns last fall, but they have far more high profile losses than victories and have failed to beat rival University of Utah four years in a row. With the Board of Directors planning to vote on a plan in August, it may be too little, too late for the Cougars to get wins against equity conference teams, but they might as well turn every game this season into a statement game. It can't hurt.
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'
THE GOOD NEWS
Tom Holmoe has shown to be a savvy athletic director for the Cougars. He led the Cougars into independence and has done a remarkable job of scheduling games and forming bowl game affiliations considering the obligations other teams and bowl games already have. He was an integral part of BYU inking a nice broadcasting deal with ESPN that has raised the level of exposure for the Cougars. In collaboration with BYUtv, the sports broadcasting center, including the million dollar broadcasting truck, at BYU quickly became the envy of every program in the nation.
Good things have happened for BYU, let's not be so fatalistic to think that good things cannot continue to happen. Holmoe is a former player at BYU and has played and coached at both the college and the professional levels and as such, the importance of playing with the big boys is not lost on him. It is doubtful that anyone involved with the program has a keener eye on the changing landscape of college football than he does. During a live interview on February 6th with 1280 the Zone, a Utah sports talk radio station, Holmoe was asked by Big Show host Gordon Monson if BYU would be willing to pay players. Although Holmoe did not directly answer the question, he did indicate that BYU could be willing to provide additional funds to student-athletes who truly needed financial assistance.
Two of the major concerns specific to BYU receiving an invite into an equity conference, are that they refuse to play on Sundays (primarily a concern for other sports) and BYUtv. Holmoe and his staff need to find a way to negotiate into an equity conference and while they will not, and should not, negotiate on Sunday play, maybe they should make some concessions concerning BYUtv. Success regarding these two issues will likely be enough to get the team into an equity conference.
Because of BYU's affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Cougars have a built in fan base whereever they play. Cougar faithful will show up to cheer the team on from sea to shining sea and that can't hurt when conferences consider them.
Word is that the Big 12 entertained the idea of BYU joining, but after a closer look decided that the Cougars looked good from afar but were far from good and talks fizzled. BYU appears to be a good fit for the Big 12 in terms of tradition, national brand, and would help to spread the regional footprint of the conference.
The Pac-12 also courted BYU once and that didn't work out either. While BYU far exceeds the conference GPA requirement, the Cougars are not considered a research school and do not play on Sundays. Could there, however, be a softening of opinions towards BYU with the move of Jamie Zaninovich from the West Coast Conference to the Pac-12? Only time will tell. The former WCC commissioner, and new PAC-12 deputy commissioner, seemed to have an amicable relationship with BYU during his tenure there. Perhaps it could carry over to the PAC-12. The PAC-12 also has the University of Utah, who is a natural rival to BYU. BYU vs. Utah will garner more attention and generate more revenue than Utah vs. Colorado.
BYU is in a tenuous position. They are on the outside looking in and facing the reality of being left out all together. Too much has been put into the program to allow it to slip out of mainstream college football. If there was ever a time for Tom Holmoe and his staff to work some magic, this is it. Let's hope that they have built a firm foundation of relationships with other schools, conferences, and television networks because the winds of changes are about to shift.
Take a look at these articles if you are interested in learning more about the changes the NCAA D-I Board of Directors is considering and how the landscape of D-I football will likely change this summer: