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Pac-10 Expansion: Why not BYU?

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While the powers that be are presumably discussing the pros and cons of a Pac-10 expansion behind closed doors, it is important to recognize that the inclusion of BYU remains unlikely - just as it has been in the past. Therefore, despite public conjecture like Ray Ratto's piece earlier in the week, or even Bleacher Report's recent breakdown, the fact remains that there are too many intangibles to account for outside of Larry Scott's primary statement:

"We're looking at it [expansion] very seriously. It wasn't something identified for me by the presidents when I took the job. But it's very natural as you look at the value of the conference from a media standpoint. If we were ever going to look at expansion, this would be the logical time."

So, what are the underlying factors that would cause the Pac-10 to welcome (assuredly with the University of Utah) or shun BYU?

The Pac-10 would contemplate BYU in its expansion for several reasons, many of them already detailed elsewhere. Jeremy Mauss of MWC Connection has explained the Pac-10's reasoning as a preemptive strike, before the MWC could attain Automatic-Qualifier status:

"...the BCS is currently evaluating conferences to determine AQ status. The evaluation began in 2008 and ends with the 2011 season. The MWC is looking very strong thus far and will likely gain AQ status starting with the 2012 season.  The PAC-10 does NOT want the MWC to become an automatic qualifier conference ... They currently rule the west and do not want to share the power; especially considering their current financial struggles ... If they ... bring in BYU, you can forget about AQ for the MWC. The Pac-10's superiority out west would be safe until the next evaluation is done."

That certainly makes sense from a financial perspective where football is American Idol and baseball/softball is The Jay Leno Show.  Several Pac-10 schools have struggled during the recession and this last football season didn't help much, especially in terms of an on-field comparison with the MWC.  

The Pac-10 finished 1-4 in their bowl games and the the MWC was 4-1 with wins over Oregon State (BYU) and Cal (Utah). The estimated payouts to the respective conferences this past season was approximately $22.75 million for the Pac-10 and $21 million to the MWC.  Both conferences have produced exactly one BCS team in each of the past two seasons (2008 - USC, Utah; 2009 - Oregon, TCU).  And since BCS evaluations began in 2008, the MWC is 6-5 against the PAC-10 overall.  In summary, the MWC is making a strong case for AQ status and the Pac-10's concern in this regard is reasonable.

Looking even further into the Pac-10's financial considerations, you have to look at basketball - another area the Pac-10 has dominated in the past. Currently, there are no Pac-10 schools ranked in the Top 25 while the MWC has three: New Mexico, BYU and UNLV.  Collectively, the Pac-10 is 3-4 against the MWC this season and they could potentially send only one team to the NCAA Tournament.

And we haven't even got to some of the reasons Ratto outlined in his recent article advocating an expansion to include BYU and Utah.  His points included:

- They are natural rivals (i.e. USC/UCLAStanford/Cal).
- Both are in geographically desirable locations (on the west side of the Rocky Mountains).
- They are academically compatible with present Pac-10 institutions.
- Both are money generators - especially in comparison to other potential candidates such as Colorado, Nevada or UNLV.

Here's a few more that have been mentioned:

- They have high ethical reputations with the NCAA, especially in terms of recent violations (i.e. USC).
- Both are in as good of financial positions as the other Pac-10 schools, if not much better.
- While BYU doesn't have the status of a "research" university, it does have first-tier law school, ranked higher (41) than Arizona (43), Arizona State (55) and Oregon (77) - and higher than Utah (T-45) and Colorado (T-45). Furthermore, BYU's business school is elite by any standard.

So, with all of these seemingly valid points to contemplate, why is the possibility of BYU joining the Pac-10 so improbable?

1 - Politics.  Brad Rock of the Deseret News put it succinctly:

"There's no way Cal, Stanford, Oregon and UCLA are going to invite a school as conservative as BYU into their conference. They can dress it up with talk about research institutions and market-sharing and Sunday games, but fact is the league from the Left Coast doesn't want conservative BYU, period.  It makes things too complicated."

For additional confirmation look no further than the ongoing Proposition 8 conflict.  This map clearly demonstrates the coast's political tendencies as compared to the supposedly more "conservative" regions of California.  The LDS Church's involvement regarding said issue(s) hasn't gone unnoticed and it could very well factor into any argument for inclusion of the Church's private, Utah-based university.  One former BYU athletics official remarked

"Stanford, Cal-Berkeley and one or two others would absolutely have a heart attack if BYU was admitted into the Pac-10."

It's true, culturally, Berkeley and Provo aren't exactly identical.

2 - Academics.  Contrary to Ratto's comment on the schools being academically compatible, BYU is not regarded as a "research institution," unlike Utah.  Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune took it a couple steps further:

"...though BYU has some of the most stringent admissions requirements in the country -- its average student had a 3.9 grade point average and a 28 ACT score in high school in 2008-09 -- it is not considered to be a top-flight research institution and does not have a medical school. Both factors are reportedly important to the Pac-10, which fancies itself as academically superior to other major conferences in the country.  Utah, on the other hand, is seen as a strong research institution with an outstanding medical school."

Those are solid points as well, but the Pac-10 would have to recognize that over the past decade BYU's undergraduate programs have admitted students with higher grades/test scores than any other time in the school's history.  BYU is on its way to becoming more of a research institution, like it or not.  Part of that can likely be attributed to Ricks College's conversion to BYU-Idaho in 2001.  BYU-Idaho now consists of over 13,000 students - about double what it was ten years ago.  Many of the students that were accepted to the school in Provo before, are now headed to Rexburg instead.

And then there's the point made earlier: BYU does have a 1st-Tier law school and a highly ranked business school. So there are some legitimate arguments to be made on either side of the issue of academic worthiness.  Pac-10 official may simply scoff at some of these arguments however and not consider BYU in the same light as a Utah and Colorado because of their "research" notoriety and medical schools (though Colorado's is 25 miles from its undergraduate campus).

3. Religion.  Some might argue that this is intertwined with the "political" issue.  However, even though Pac-10 officials may feel differently, BYU and the LDS Church see them as separate.  Jay Drew addressed this issue with the aforementioned former BYU athletic official as well:

"It became very clear [in past discussions with the Pac-10] that what we were dealing with was good old-fashioned religious discrimination that was masquerading as academic snobbery," said the source, who wished to remain anonymous because of his continuing relationship with BYU. He said he expects the "climate to be even more divisive now" due to hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay rights that have BYU at odds with the more liberal-leaning Pac-10 schools."

These are, quite discernibly, different concerns than merely whether the Cougars would be permitted to retain their ability to not play on Sundays.  These are issues that may have prevented BYU from joining other conferences in the past and there is no reason to think that will change.  But if the Pac-10 expands with Utah and Colorado, claiming that BYU simply wasn't qualified academically, you'll know that's only partly the truth.

As for the Sunday issue, it is a real stumbling block that would have to be worked out.  It wouldn't be impossible, but it hasn't worked in the past.  BYU has a good relationship with the NCAA and MWC in this regard and there's still no reason to think a more prestigious conference would be as hospitable.

In all likelihood these four elements - money, politics, academics, and religion - all present difficulties for BYU in joining the Pac-10.  That is why despite so many apparent benefits to both school and conference, BYU is likely to be excluded should there be an expansion.  Utah quite possibly, Colorado maybe, but BYU probably not.  That doesn't rule out a potential move to another conference at some point in time for BYU, but that's a different discussion altogether.

And judging by VTF's most recent poll, many Cougar fans are just fine with the current circumstances.


If the Pac-10 were to expand, what is the main reason Colorado or another university would be included rather than BYU?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Money. The Pac-10 can increase it's revenue by incorporating a different school, like Colorado.
    (89 votes)
  • 34%
    Religion. The Pac-10 can't accommodate BYU's code to not play on Sunday.
    (187 votes)
  • 40%
    Politics. BYU's reputation as a predominantly conservative school is incompatible with the Pac-10.
    (221 votes)
  • 6%
    Academics. BYU doesn't have a medical school and/or isn't perceived as strong scholastically.
    (33 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (Leave Comment)
    (11 votes)
541 votes total Vote Now