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ESPN: BYU’s Big 12 hopes are “losing steam.” Let’s take a closer look

The worldwide leader has an update on Big 12 expansion, and things may be even more complicated than they seem.

NCAA Football: Texas at California
As always, it comes down to Texas
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

We’re still a few weeks away from the next big date in the Big 12 expansion saga, as the next Big 12 board meeting isn’t until October 17. But updates on the process have started to trickle in from national reporters, and surprise, they continue to paint a convoluted process rife with internal disagreements.

Jake Trotter at ESPN has the most recent update, which has a few specific updates of note to BYU fans.

There are two particular passages worth highlighting, although somebody interested in this process should probably read the entire thing.

First, BYU’s candidacy is “losing steam”

From Trotter:

Months ago, BYU was viewed as the frontrunner in any Big 12 expansion scenario. With a passionate national fan base, strong football tradition, top-35 TV market in Salt Lake City and solid academic credentials, BYU checked every box of the criteria the Big 12 said it would be analyzing.

But the LGBT community's opposition to BYU because of its honor code has turned BYU's candidacy "toxic," as one Big 12 insider characterized it.

"Their appeal doesn't outweigh the baggage, even though the appeal is great," another said.

This is similar to what other national reporters have said recently. Trotter also notes that Iowa State’s student government passed a resolution opposing BYU’s Big 12 candidacy. Student government groups at Kansas State and Texas are considering similar resolutions.

It’s also worth noting that later in the article, Trotter adds the following:

"BYU makes all the sense in the world from a football perspective," said one Big 12 source.

Here’s my thinking here about the letter/honor code, etc

It is difficult for me to believe, especially since this group includes Gordon Gee, a former BYU professor and Latter-Day Saint, that Big 12 presidents were completely unaware of BYU’s honor code. It’s possible they did not appreciate or understand every nuance, but I would be very surprised if they read any opposition letters regarding LGBTQ issues at BYU as some sort of revelation. To reporters, general college football fans, etc...sure. But university presidents? I am skeptical.

I do not think that individuals who are being interviewed for these stories are being untruthful. My guess, and this is only a guess, is that many of these sources are not university presidents, but television executives, athletic department officials, plugged-in boosters, etc, who may not have known about BYU’s internal policies before the letter, or increased national attention. That could be coloring the responses a bit. Just a guess.

University administrators can be a pretty risk adverse group though, and times can change pretty quickly. What might have been something that could be worked around say, a year ago, could be politically untenable now.

BYU officials have now had a few hours with the Big 12 to specifically plead their case. I think it’s a safe assumption that BYU’s presentation included a discussion about internal polices, the honor code, who the honor code applies to, potential for changes, etc. If BYU’s candidacy is still interpreted to be “toxic” AFTER that conversation, well...that’s probably that. But I’m not sure that’s 100% the case here after reading this. And we probably won’t know for sure until next month.

This is just another guess here, but if BYU’s internal polices are too controversial for major athletic conference membership, in the future, I suspect they will be too controversial for some academic confederations too. I’m not saying that the school will risk losing accreditation or anything, but how the university chooses to engage with the greater academic/athletic community will be impacted by these sorts of issues. I have no idea what they should do, or what might happen, only that I don’t think this is the last time we’ll be talking about this.

Also, this might be moot, since the Big 12 could fall apart anyway

Also from Trotter:

Interestingly, Boren noted last week that expansion could hinge on whether it "adds to the long-term stability" of the conference.

But if the Big 12 doesn't sign an extension of its grant of rights the way the ACC did this year, the league's long-term stability will remain dubious, at best. The contracts currently binding the conference together expire in the 2024-25 academic year.


So far, neither Texas nor Oklahoma has indicated it would agree to a grant of rights extension under any scenario. Without the extension, the clock will continue to tick on the Big 12, regardless of whether it expands or not, as the Longhorns and Sooners will be free to leave for greener pastures when the rights expire.

"If the two parents don't commit [to signing the extension]," said one industry source, "what does that tell you?"

Said another: The Big 12 "could be close to the end."

Part of the entire reason for expanding was to try and create stability for the league, but if Oklahoma and/or Texas don’t “re-up”, there’s no stability. And what’s the incentive for either program to sign an extension, knowing that either could find a home in the Big Ten or SEC, with either superior athletic competition, or greater academic branding, not to mention boatloads more money?

I’ve written before that the non-Texas Big 12 schools should favor expansion anyway, since adding BYU, Cincinnati (or Houston, etc) would give them more leverage and stability in a post-Texas world, but perhaps not everybody sees it that way.

Right now, it at least seems possible that BYU could join the Big 12, wait four to five years to get the big TV payday, only to have the conference fall apart under their feet right after the big checks start to come in.

Of course, we’re still weeks away, and there’s plenty of horse-trading and political wrangling to go on, not to mention football to be played. This situation could still end in one of ten different ways.

If recent reports are accurate, things don’t look to be breaking BYU’s way. But nothing about this process appears to be final right now, other than the Big 12 will do it in the most confusing way possible.