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Special Investigative Report: BYU conference affiliation part one

Are you nervous about BYU's place in an ever changing football landscape now that we'll be having a playoff? Don't worry. Our SPECIAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORT breaks everything down for you.


Debating BYU's place in the college football world as an independent is not a new question, and it's one that is being asked more and more now that the sport moves towards a playoff system, causing some to worry if the program will be left out in the cold as an independent. We've read the arguments and the rumors and discussions about BRAND and REACH and other Darren Rovell related blather. It's time to get serious. It's time for some SERIOUS. PROFESSIONAL. JOURNALISM. Below, I sat down, crunched the numbers, and broke down the pros and cons of BYU entering just about every major conference.

Why stop at just the Pac-12 and the Big 12? Why do the other conferences? BECAUSE YOLO THAT'S WHY. I asked everybody except for the MAC, Sun Belt, The American, and CUSA. The MAC and Sun Belt don't have SB Nation specific blogs (and c'mon, BYU isn't joining the MAC West), and even though I write about sports for money, I couldn't name every CUSA team off the top of my head. Therefore, they are irrelevant.

To do this serious, professional INVESTIGATIVE REPORT, I got the following data:

# of Mormons in geographic footprint. This is meant to be a SUPER DUPER ROUGH gestimate of a potential fanbase, as I am operating on the assumption that the number of people who may claim BYU as a primary rooting interest, but aren't living in Utah or LDS, is pretty low.  This data comes from the 2012 church membership records. It includes everybody on the rolls, so if you're looking for the *active population*, take whatever number I give you, and multiply it by .4 or .6.

# of alumni in relevant footprint cities. I called up the BYU alumni office, who gave me this data. This is data for a metropolitan area, not just the city itself (i.e, if a BYU grad is living in a Chicago suburb, or Gary,  they are included in the Chicago data). If the BYU alumni office was unable to provide an answer, I estimated, based on the number of LinkedIn accounts claiming that school based in a certain metro. When I had to estimate, I was *very* generous in overcounting.

Conference Academic Profile: A loose categorization of the kind of academic institutions in each conference. Are they large, research-focused AAU caliber schools? Are they public, private, selective, non-selective? How does BYU's profile (large, private, religiously focused, academically selective, non-research focused) fit into that profile?

Potential Athletic Fit: Where, based on resources and recent performance, I wildly speculate if BYU's football or basketball teams would be able to compete facing that schedule.

Why this is a good idea: Fairly self explanatory!

Why this is a terrible idea: Also self explanatory!

Interview with a conference rep: Don't just take my word for it. I sat down with a blogger from each conference to break down how BYU might fit, what they should do, and if they'd even want them.

Got all of that? Good. Let's dig into a few of these conferences. We'll take a look at the ACC, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 today.


# of Mormons in ACC footprint:

Using 2012 membership data, 625,078 Mormons live in states under the ACC geographic footprint. This is a *very* generous number, considering how broadly I'm considering the ACC footprint.

Conference academic profile:

5 of the 14 schools are in the AAU (UNC, UVA, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Duke), 6 if you count about-to-depart Maryland. The ACC is a mix of both public and private institutions (Syracuse, Wake Forest, Duke, Miami, "Notre Dame"), and judging by ACT aggregates and US News rankings, BYU would probably be somewhere in the middle of the conference academically.

# of BYU alumni in major conference metros:

Charlotte: 700

Raleigh/Research Triangle: 1,300

Atlanta: 2,200

Potential Athletic Fit: It's reasonable to see BYU football potentially succeeding as decent team in the ACC. The Cougars recently won both games in their home and home with middle-of-the-pack Georgia Tech, and talentwise, would probably regularly compete  with NC State, Wake, BC, UVA (recent monsoon game notwithstanding), UNC and Duke. Florida State would likely beat them soundly on a regular basis, but they do that to the teams already in the ACC.

I suspect BYU basketball would struggle to make the NCAAs on a regular basis if they had to compete in the ACC, although they would be good enough to occasionally beat very good teams.

Why this is a great idea: Syracuse is the closest FBS program to Palmyra, New BYU could claim some historical connection to the ACC...kinda? It would probably improve BYU's recruiting, given the increase in population in Virginia and North pairs them with Notre Dame, the school BYU wants to model themselves after....really. This is a tough stretch, even for me.

Why this is a terrible idea: BYU is 1,500 miles away from everybody in a conference that would crush them in basketball, has comparatively few LDS members, and with a group of schools that BYU can't claim any connection to. Other than that, sounds like a great idea.

Interview with conference rep: Brian Barbour of the Tar Heel Blog:

If the ACC faced pressure to expand to 16 teams, who would the conference legitimately target?

John Swofford has made it clear that the ACC will only expand within the "footprint" and try to keep it in the eastern time zone as much as possible. So anyone within that geographic area would be a possibility though he swears the ACC is happy at 14 in football and 15 in the other sports.

BYU is 1,589 miles away from the closest ACC school (Louisville). It would take a hell of a shoe to include BYU in that kind of footprint. Montreal is closer to Louisville than Provo.

Would you want your conference to target BYU as a possible expansion candidate? Could they be a fit in your conference?

See #1. I don't know where BYU ranks academically which is supposedly an important factor with Louisville's membership being an obvious exception because they needed to grab the best athletic program available at the time.

I can answer that for you. BYU is a better school than Louisville. If you only care about undergraduate academics, BYU would be a middle of the pack institution in the conference (behind Duke, UNC, UVA, Miami, Syracuse, and probably Boston College, but ahead of places like Va Tech, Louisville and Clemson).

If you were BYU's athletic director, what recommendation would you make? Join a conference, stay independent, drop sports entirely, etc.

If the playoff committee is big on SOS, the BYU can craft the type of schedule to make them a legitimate contender. Obviously winning the games is necessary but if you can't get into a major conference that gives you a slight bump then being independent and assembling a tough schedule is probably the next best thing.

Ok then!


BYU should probably not petition to join the ACC. SPOILER ALERT.


# of Mormons in B1G footprint:

359,362 Mormons live in the current Big Ten footprint, including me! Once you add Maryland and Rutgers, you're bringing on roughly another 80,000.

Conference academic profile:

Every single school in the Big Ten is in the AAU, except for Nebraska, which was in the AAU when they joined the conference. All but 1 are large, research focused, land grant public institutions. As far as undergrad selectivity goes, BYU again would probably slot in near the middle (behind Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State and Ohio State), but they don't fit the academic profile of a Big Ten school at all.

# of BYU alumni  in major conference metros:

Chicago: 1,800

Columbus: 600. I probably know 400 of these people, and I think they are ALL dentists.

Detroit: Less than 1,000

Indianapolis: Less than 700

Potential Athletic Fit: BYU football would probably be at least an above average Big Ten team right off the bat, but that probably says more about the relative decline of the conference and the glut of very new coaches. The current model of BYU football, with an emphasis on a high physical and aggressive defense in lieu of hyper athletic skill position players would fit right in with Michigan State, Penn State and others.

BYU's basketball team would really struggle to get to .500 in conference play...but I bet we'd have some great volleyball matches!

Why this is a great idea: The LDS church has extensive historical roots in Big Ten country. BYU football would fit right in with a conference full of teams with big, slow, white people. This would be a great way to get on TV more. I could go to more BYU games.

Why this is a terrible idea: BYU fans might be horrified to visit huge party schools like Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State. This is probably the worst conference fit, academically, and the BYU basketball team would get trampled. Also, I can just envision the following scenario, on a late November night, when Ohio State scores again to pull ahead 42-17....



We don't need this.

Interview with Big Ten conference rep: my man, Ted Glover of Off Tackle Empire, and Land Grant Holy Land

If the B1G faced pressure to expand to 16 teams, who would the conference legitimately target?

Personally, I feel expansion is a mtter of 'when', not 'if', at least for the Big Ten.  Jim Delany (and Mike Slive of the SEC, for that matter) has said that 14 teams is not the optimal number for conferences, so I fully expect to see the conference continue to expand.  I've always been a proponent of the 'go big or go home' strategy, and I think if the conference expands again, it will be to get to 20, because Delany is chasing Notre Dame like Captain Ahab chased the white whale, and he'll need to get to 20 teams to get Notre Dame in the fold.  As the College Football Playoff evolves, four super conferences of 20 teams makes the most sense, and I like the Big Ten to continue to move towards the mid-Atlantic and coastal South, or get a national brand school.  North Carolina, Notre Dame, Texas, and Florida State have all been names thrown out there, and those would be home runs.  Is it realistic?  We'll see.  Once the Maryland lawsuit with the ACC is adjudicated, I think we'll see another round of expansion, and it will be a seismic shift.

Would you want your conference to target BYU as a possible expansion candidate? Could they be a fit in your conference?

No, and no.  BYU is a private, religious, non-AAU school.  It's a great school, don't get me wrong, but...the Big Ten consists of AAU schools (Nebraska was AAU when they joined) that are primarily land grant institutions and the flagship universities of their respective states.  As much as football drives the train in conference realignment, research dollars and AAU affiliation is big, too.  Right now, the Big Ten, as a research consortium, is a Goliath in the academic world, and if Jim Delany gets his way, almost all research dollars spent will be spent within the Big Ten footprint.  If you're not a research school, and if you're not AAU, the only way you can get into the Big Ten is if you bring eyeballs to TV sets and have a large, national fan base that follows everything you do, win or lose. The only school that fits that bill is Notre Dame, and right now, they're kinda sorta aligned with the ACC.  I just don't see a path to BYU getting a Big Ten invite anytime soon.

If you were BYU's athletic director, what recommendation would you make? Join a conference, stay independent, drop sports entirely, etc.

BYU and the other few remaining independent programs are in a tight spot.  The Playoff is going to drive schools to conferences, and although BYU going independent was smart for them when they did it a couple years back, I don't think that's sustainable in the long run.  Heck, even Notre Dame quasi-aligned with a conference, so I think the writing is on the wall.  I'm not familiar with how BYU is perceived by conferences like the Pac-12 or Big XII, but I think the days of independence are coming to a close, and they'll need to align with somebody to get the lion's share of revenue that's going to be generated with the advent of the playoffs.


While it's occasionally fun to troll people on twitter and facebook about this idea, and I've been a heee-uge proponent of BYU and Ohio State playing more often, this would really be a terrible fit for everybody.


# of Mormons in SEC footprint:

842,453 Mormons live in the SEC geographic footprint, with 315,895 of them living in Texas. Is a Mormon living in El Paso in SEC Country? Probably not, but it's not worth trying to find Stake by Stake data here.

Conference academic profile: Outside of Vandy, the SEC  is full of  primarily large, public schools that are not as well-known for their research (compared to the B1G and Pac-12).  Depending on what metric you prefer, BYU would enter as probably the 3rd or 4th best school in the conference, behind Vandy, Florida, and maybe Georgia.

# of  BYU alumni  in major conference metros:

Houston: 3,800

Atlanta: 2,200

New Orleans: Data not available, but based on my own anecdotal experience of being a Mormon living in New Orleans, I'd be shocked if this number was much higher than 300.

Birmingham: Less than 300

Potential Athletic Fit: I don't think it's a stretch to think that BYU could field a basketball team that regularly finished in the top half of the SEC, and one that beat enough decent teams to be a NCAA tourney mainstay. Obviously the Kentuckys and Floridas would beat them, but BYU would certainly compete with Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, etc.

Football? lololololol

Why this is a great idea: Because think of all the NATIONAL EXPOSURE BYU would be able to get by joining the best football conference in the country? Think of all the prime access to BIG TIME RECRUITS! Plus, BYU/LSU games just need to happen, dammit.

Why this is a terrible idea: Besides the fact that Provo is over 1,300 miles away from College Station, the nearest SEC city? Besides the fact that bringing in a Mormon institution into the Deep South might not be a perfect cultural fit? Besides the fact that BYU would get absolutely boatraced in football? Besides the fact that the SEC doesn't sponsor many non-revenue sports important to BYU? That ought to about cover it. But yeah, we should probably still print BYU to the SEC shirts anyway.

Interview with SEC conference rep: Brandon Larrabee of Team Speed Kills:

If the SEC faced pressure to expand to 16 teams, who would the conference legitimately target?

The most mentioned names about the SEC are UNC, N.C. State and Virginia Tech. Sometimes Virginia. Oklahoma is thrown out there, but the conference really doesn't want the Sooners if they have to take Oklahoma State. And there's almost zero interest in having the SEC take Texas after the ways it's basically run over everyone else in the Big 12.

Would you want your conference to target BYU as a possible expansion candidate? Could they be a fit in your conference?

No. The SEC has remained geographically compact and has the advantage of not having to do anything it doesn't want to. I do kind of have some questions about whether BYU would mesh with the conference -- a BYU vs. LSU game would be an interesting experience, to say the least -- but the distance is too great for that move to ever be considered.

I would give anything to cover a BYU/LSU game. I wouldn't even need to go into the stadium...I just wanna hang out in the parking lot with a camera and a notebook.

If you were BYU's athletic director, what recommendation would you make? Join a conference, stay independent, drop sports entirely, etc.

I've always thought BYU deciding to go independent was a mistake. The Mountain West was getting very close to AQ status, particularly when Boise was joining and Utah was still on board, and the BYU defection basically destroyed all hope of it. I don't think BYU has any great options right now. I don't think the Big 12 is going to be looking for new members unless and until it believes that the current conference lineup is hurting its contenders, which would take a few years. The Pac-12 is basically out. Staying independent gives BYU very limited options -- I'm not sure they have an in with the "access bowls," and the schedule quality could vary wildly from year to year given all the independent deals that have to be worked out.

Here's an idea: Rejoin the Mountain West. A win would set up BYU very nicely with the access bowls and stabilize the schedule strength to a degree. The Broncos could probably still schedule Notre Dame and Texas on a regular basis, which would give them some chances at knocking off high-profile opponents. A Mountain West-winning BYU would be a serious contender for the access bowls most years, and an undefeated BYU with wins over Boise, Notre Dame and Texas would have a fighting chance of getting in the playoffs if the other wins were impressive enough. And if the Big 12 or another conference ever started looking around for expansion targets, BYU would still be a viable candidate.

I know that's probably not the kind of option that would really appeal to most BYU fans, and I'm not even sure that the Mountain West would be interested. But it might be the best thing for all parties.

Yeah, that probably would make BYU fans infuriated, but you aren't the first person to suggest this! Even though this was basically an impossibility, a league with BYU, Boise State, Utah and TCU would have been pretty fun.


The SEC would be a terrible fit, but hey, BYU should totally try anyway. Mostly because I want to read other bloggers discussing this idea.

The Pac-12

# of Mormons in Pac-12  footprint:

Basically, all of them, or at least, the ones who live in America.  3,718,433 Mormons live in states with a Pac-12 school. If you include Nevada, which doesn't have a Pac-12 school but has hosted the Pac-12 basketball tourney and certainly has a lot of Pac-12 fans, you add another 178,737. That's well over half of the entire US LDS population.

Conference academic profile: Selective, and heavily research based. Colorado, Cal, UCLA, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Stanford are all AAU institutions, and USC has an elite reputation.  While the conference does have two private schools, BYU's mission, as a religious institution AND as a university that isn't research focused, doesn't really fit in with the rest of the schools.

I personally believe that the political factor between Stanford/Cal and BYU and the LDS Church's involvement with Prop-8 is a little overblown, but it's very fair to say that multiple Pac-12 schools have had a complicated history with BYU. The tension really started back in the 1970s, before blacks were allowed to hold the priesthood. A background on those protests, which originated with many MWC/WAC schools, could be found here.

# of  BYU alumni  in major conference metros:

LA: 6,000 just in LA county.

Bay Area: 8,500

Phoenix: 14,000

Seattle: 6,100

Salt Lake City:  I don't think I need to remind you that Salt Lake has a ton of BYU grads. According to this link, almost half of all BYU graduates live in Utah.

Potential Athletic Fit: On paper, it seems very strong. BYU hoops would add some needed depth to men's basketball, which has fallen behind many non-BCS leagues in the past few seasons (although it looks quite strong this season). Half of the Pac-12 is scheduled somewhere in future BYU schedules, and it isn't hard to imagine the Cougars acclimating as least as well as Utah has over the last few seasons. They'd be unlikely to ever win the league, but could certainly be in the top few teams during good years.

Why this is a great idea: It would guarantee the continuation of a very good BYU/Utah rivalry (and it would force people to stop talking about conferences during rivalry trashtalking). BYU has a fair amount of fans in many cities around the Pac-12 footprint, and travels well, helping to fill stadiums all over the region. BYU/Cal has good rivalry potential, as would BYU/Colorado, or BYU/USC.

Why this is a terrible idea: Since Utah has already been added, BYU doesn't really give the Pac-12 anything, TV money wise. Institutionally, BYU isn't a great fit with the other schools, and that inclusion could bother college presidents beyond just Cal and Stanford.

Interview with a Pac-12 rep: Avinash Kunnah of Pacific Takes

If your conference felt the need to expand to 16 (or 14...or 12), who do you imagine would be the actual realistic targets?

For the Pac-12, it's Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. If they can only take two, Texas and Texas Tech. Texas is the only school big enough to warrant a serious consideration for greater expansion for the conference.

Would you want your conference to target BYU as a possible expansion candidate? Could BYU be a fit in your conference?

BYU is not likely to ever be a part of the Pac-12. The California schools are dead set against a religiously-affiliated school in the conference, and they already have their regional market with the addition of Utah to the conference. BYU fits from a competitive environment, but its religious ties hold it back.
If you were BYU's AD, what would you try to do? Seek admission in X conference, stay independent...or, I dunno, drop sports entirely?
Independence seems to be working fine for BYU at the moment. They might end up doing what Notre Dame does: Agree to play a set amount of opponents from big-profile schools in a big conference or two. If BYU wins out or loses a game, they'll be right up there with the Irish as a BCS buster. Their TV deal with ESPN also provides them with long-term stability. BYU isn't going anywhere.

Politics and culture make this an exceptionally unlikely paring, and to be honest, it's probably better that way. The Pac-12 may be the best fit for the distribution of BYU's alumni base and American LDS membership, but it doesn't make sense for the Pac-12, and there are better fits for BYU.