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The college football world is on shaky ground.
First, it was talk about a College Football Playoff expansion. Now, Texas and Oklahoma have plans to leave the Big 12, presumably for the SEC. On Monday, both universities made a joint announcement explaining their intent to not renew their grant of rights agreements with the Big 12, and they sent a request for an invite into the SEC on Tuesday.
What does that all mean for BYU?
Back in September 2010, BYU announced it would be leaving the Mountain West Conference — mostly due to lack of TV coverage — and would go independent. That may have burned some bridges in the Mountain West, but BYU was hoping to find a bigger and better conference sooner rather than later.
That hasn’t happened.
In a little more than a month, BYU will open up its 11th season of its independence era.
It hasn’t been all bad. BYU has full control of its schedule, leading the athletic department to consistently book Power 5 opponents (the Cougars will face seven P5 programs this fall). Athletic director Tom Holmoe has also been able to secure a media rights deal with ESPN.
After their most recent deal in January, the Cougars will continue to have ESPN broadcast games through 2026. Under the new deal, ESPN will televise a minimum of four BYU home games each season with at least three on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC. The fourth game can be on ESPNU. BYU will also be able to broadcast one game live on BYUtv.
But, even though BYU has been able to make independence work for it and make the best of it, the program and fans still want more. They want to be in a Power 5 conference.
The Cougars have developed friendly relationships within the Pac-12 already. Looking at the 2021 schedule, four of the seven Power 5 opponents on tap are from the Pac-12.
“It’s always nice to have a great partner in ESPN,” Holmoe said during last month’s media day. “And as we put these games together, certainly we see the commonality of the number of games on the schedule that are from the Pac-12. The Pac-12 have been good to us — they’re very easy to schedule with.”
Could that relationship help bring in BYU should conferences decide to expand?
Or could BYU present itself as a good option should the Big 12 try to poach Pac-12 teams? Could BYU simply be a Big 12 replacement for Texas or Oklahoma?
Holmoe has consistently said BYU hopes to find a place in a Power 5 conference.
There are many reasons for that.
Although not the norm, the events of last season could be foreshadowing what’s to come. With the pandemic threatening college football, the P5 conferences opted for a conference-only schedule. That completely threw BYU’s season up in the air.
BYU tried to get into a conference, reportedly the Big 12, for its best chance to play. The Cougars got shut down but were able to piece together a respectable season considering the circumstances.
It wasn’t their first snub at the hands of the Big 12, though. Back in 2016, when the Big 12 was looking to expand, BYU was reportedly at the top of the list. However, due to the school’s stance on the LGBTQ community, along with its strict Honor Code, BYU was left out in the cold.
Either BYU or the Big 12 would have to change course for a deal to get done now.
But Yahoo Sports columnist Pete Thamel recently said in a podcast with colleague Dan Wetzel that the Big 12 should “for sure” add BYU, as well as expand the league. Thamel suggested the Big 12 “build the best-of-the-rest league. I would go get Boise State, Colorado State, BYU for sure, San Diego State, Houston... and then Cincinnati, UCF and USF.”
And he’s not the only one to think so. As ESPN’s Heather Dinich reported, while speaking on ESPN’s “Get Up” morning program, the Big 12 has been considering adding BYU, Cincinnati and Houston.
Yet, Eddie Timanus of USA Today believes BYU’s chance of joining the Big 12 are “a bit of a long shot.” Timanus acknowledged that the Cougars do have a national identity, so it would make sense for the league to consider them, but there won’t be much more happening past that.
That’s where the strong relationship with the Pac-12 may help BYU, but the Cougars may have to first settle with getting back into the Mountain West or another Group of 5 conference.
Either way, at least for the foreseeable future, this could be BYU’s best chance to get in. As Holmoe has said multiple times over recent years, the goal is to get the Cougars into a Power 5 conference.