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Records show Memphis, Houston, Colorado State and UCF lobbying for Big 12 membership — but not BYU

Should this be a cause of concern?

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

There are lots of ways for a university to pitch themselves as a candidate for conference expansion. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we have an idea about which institutions are favoring a more direct approach.

Jake Trotter of ESPN published a report Tuesday evening that showed, via obtained records, that Memphis, Houston, Colorado State and UCF have made specific pitches to Big 12 administrators, specifically those on the expansion committee (Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor).

I have also filed records requests to Big 12 administrators, and while I have not received any records from Oklahoma (and thus cannot specifically confirm this report), I have seen promotional materials from Houston, Memphis and Cincinnati sent to conference administrators.

Most of the records concern West Virginia president Gordon Gee, perhaps the most loquacious university administrator in the conference. The entire article is worth reading, but here are the highlights:

  • West Virginia university president Gordon Gee flew to Houston on Nov. 29 to tour the facilities. This trip including meeting with Houston's top administrators, donors and head football coach, Tom Herman.
  • On Feb. 24, University of Memphis president David Rudd sent a letter to the three university presidents on the expansion committee, along with former Kansas State university president Kirk Schulz, detailing how the school was planning on making a $500 million dollar investment in academic and athletic facilities over the next five years.
  • FedEx, which is headquartered in Memphis and is a major donor to the university, would be interested in sponsoring a future Big 12 championship game.
  • Administrators from both Colorado State and UCF sent materials to Dr. Gee, which he thanked them for.
Conspicuous in its absence? Any correspondence, or even any mention, of BYU.

Last month, we filed a request asking for any correspondence between the university president or athletic director at every public Big 12 school, and the university president or athletic director of every major Big 12 candidate program. We've seen letters to Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Iowa State, and Kansas.

Coupled with these documents, there's now been correspondence released from five Big 12 candidate schools, but nothing from BYU, UConn, or USF. Previous records requests sent specifically to USF and UConn for promotional documents were denied, as the school claims no such documents exist.

It's worth noting a school not having any emails or travel records pop up doesn't mean it isn't lobbying for a bid. USF has essentially said they're going to keep a low profile.

It also doesn't mean the most public and aggressive pitch is the most effective one. Multiple sources have told me not every Big 12 administrator is in love with how public Cincinnati and Memphis have been with their pitches.

Still, these show the expansion committee took Houston seriously enough as a candidate to fly a university president out for information gathering. And if nothing else, now administrators at each of these schools have cover, so they can go back to their fans and donors and say, 'we tried.'

So what should we make of the fact that no BYU documentation has come out? If I can put on my reporter's hat for a second, let's take a look at the possibilities:

  • It could mean BYU's correspondence simply hasn't shown up yet, or isn't responsive to public records requests. Baylor, after all, is a private school and cannot be FOIA'd, but is also on the expansion committee. BYU could be focusing their more formal pitches there. I can't speak for the specific language or scope ESPN requested, but it is technically possible other documents will appear in other searches. Maybe BYU wrote Oklahoma State or something.
  • It could mean that BYU is operating via 3rd parties, or specifically to escape the scope of FOIA requests. This would be a little surprising, but certainly possible, especially given how careful and guarded BYU is with information about the inner workings of its athletic department. There aren't many athletic departments, in my experience, better at keeping a closed shop than BYU. Sometimes that can be frustrating as a fan, but it also may have advantages.
  • It could mean that BYU isn't using formal pitches at all. That's not unprecedented, but an exceptionally laid back approach might seem a little strange. After all, everybody and their brother knows BYU wants to get into a P5 conference, so it's not like avoiding email is going to fool anybody.
This expansion hunt is a bit unprecedented, since nobody in recent memory has had quite as long or protracted search for other candidates as the Big 12. The fact these schools have formally sent pitches and proposals doesn't necessarily mean their candidacy is being viewed more favorably.

But if you wanted to worry a little bit about BYU not popping up in any of these? I think a little bit of concern would be justified. As with everything else with this story, we'll know more in the weeks to come.