Texas and Oklahoma shook the college football world when they announced they will defect from the Big 12 to the SEC.
Other dominoes may soon fall. This left the Big 12 scrambling, as they will be down to eight teams when the defection is complete. They will be left a lot less sexy and wondering what the future holds.
The Big 10, PAC-12 and ACC just formed an “alliance” to try and combat the rising power of the SEC. The PAC-12 announced on Thursday that they will not seek expansion at this time.
The Big 12, however, may not have any other choice but to expand if they want to stay afloat. Some quality programs remain- Oklahoma State, TCU, Iowa State and Baylor all have experienced recent success on the big stage.
On Friday, The Athletic released an article explaining the Big 12’s situation and where BYU fits in the equation. There is a Big 12 expansion subgroup that includes various athletic directors from the conference. They are meeting Friday to discuss the possibility of expansion.
Nothing is imminent. However, it seems like there is more momentum than ever for adding teams to Power 5 conferences, especially the Big 12.
BYU easily has the strongest case, by far.
Per the 2019-2020 Annual Report released by BYU, “Notre Dame and BYU are considered by the ACC, SEC and Big Ten as a P5 level opponent for football scheduling purposes.” This means most Power 5 programs already consider the Cougars a Power 5 opponent, including the almighty, powerful SEC.
The TV numbers speak for themselves. BYU is a Power 5 program as far as ratings and viewers go. Per SportsMediaWatch.com, the BYU versus Coastal Carolina game last December set a five-year high for ESPNU and got triple the viewership of Washington State vs. USC that same weekend.
In an article released by blackandgoldbanneret.com, they calculated that the average Big 12 game that did not involve Texas or Oklahoma produced an average of 1.049 million viewers in 2020.
Through the first eight seasons of the original ESPN-BYU contract (2011-18), the average television audience of ABC/ESPN football games featuring P5 vs P5 teams was 1.6 million, while the average audience for BYU games vs P5 opponents was 1.9, a significant jump from the mid-level Big 12 games.
In 2020, BYU routinely out-drew Big 12 games in the ratings, even while playing lackluster, Group of 5 opponents.
2020 was a weird year of course. It’s difficult to justify any big decision solely on what happened during that pandemic-riddled season. However, this trend dates pre-pandemic as well. Here are some of BYU’s 2019 viewership numbers compared to other Power 5 vs. Power 5 matchups.
Yes, the BYU vs. Washington game in 2019 even out-drew one of the most passionate rivalries in the heralded SEC, Florida and Tennessee.
As most know, the school is affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a church which has over 16.5 million members, including over half of that membership living outside of the United States. It is very much a worldwide church and thus, BYU draws from a well of fans from across the globe. No matter where you go, if you wear BYU gear, you will likely find a Cougar compadre or two in the midst (just go to Disneyland and try it, works every time).
In 2018, BYU football brought in an estimated $67 million, which ranked 55th in the FBS at the time. ESPN and BYU have a healthy relationship that is alive and well.
Playing Power 5 teams and having lots of people watch on TV are all well and good but, you also need to win those games.
2019 was a good example of what BYU’s program is capable of. The Cougars went on the road to SEC country, Rocky Top at Tennessee, and won in overtime in front of 93,000 fans. The following week, the USC Trojans came to Provo and BYU handed the No. 24-ranked squad an upset loss.
In head coach Kalani Sitake’s time at BYU (five seasons), the Cougars have seven wins over Power 5 teams including five of those victories being away from Provo. No one plays more teams in more locations than BYU.
Since 2011, the Cougars have played or scheduled 53 different FBS teams from 12 conferences and 32 different states, including 19 teams east of the Mississippi River.
When comparing BYU to the remaining teams of the Big 12, it’s hard to argue that they don’t belong.
BYU ranks towards the top in most historic categories among the leftover eight programs in the Big 12, including second in total bowl games played.
LaVell Edwards Stadium is a Power 5-level facility as well. It holds 63,725 fans, which is more than 37 Power 5 programs including all eight of the would-be-remaining Big 12 schools.
And let’s talk about the new locker room...
BYU and their fans have done this song and dance before, back in 2016. It’s understandable that some remain skeptical of BYU’s chances of sticking to a Power 5 conference. Others wonder if the Big 12 will even exist in a few years. If the Big 12 expands, they should be able to keep their status as a major conference. If they do not, it could be a death sentence. BYU remains their best option.
However, conference or no conference, the football program at BYU looks and acts like a Power 5 program and it should be treated as such, being the number one candidate for any talk of expansion.