It’s never been in doubt that BYU should do whatever it can to get into a strong sports league. Lord knows, it’s tried. Now, it’s a matter of deciding how strong the conference leaning toward the Cougars with puckered lips really is.
How big is the Big 12?
On that first point, BYU did about as well as it could playing as an independent in football, all while stashing basketball, along with other sports, in the West Coast Conference. It would have helped the Cougars more had they fielded better teams in their years of independence. During that span, against all opponents, especially against higher-profile ones, BYU had its ups and downs.
Last season’s cobbled schedule against mostly inferior foes actually made BYU more attractive than it would have been otherwise, with its 11-1 record.
All of that said, somehow the move from the Mountain West Conference was enabling. It allowed BYU to get more money and exposure in its ESPN deal, get out from under other league schools that bucked against the Cougars — sometimes justifiably, sometimes out of jealousy and pettiness — and it helped it balm its sore ego, just a bit, from being left behind by Utah, as the Utes were invited into the Pac-12.
The Pac-12 did not want BYU for reasons that had nothing to do with sports. That’s a fact. At times, the Cougars, who do have value, were seen by others as troublesome to deal with. A headache not worth suffering.
And try as BYU might — and it tried hard — the Big 12 didn’t want it, either. Didn’t want to slice up its financial pie with another mouth to feed, not as long as Texas and Oklahoma generated half the TV revenue, sharing it too plentifully, already, at least in those schools’ minds.
Funny, the way priorities are rearranged on the plains of Kansas, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma when the two biggest moneymakers suddenly decide to bolt south and east. Or maybe those priorities never were rearranged. Maybe it was UT and OU all along, as mentioned, that didn’t want BYU in.
Either way, born out of a league’s desperation and a will to survive, the Cougars seem to be wanted now, along with UCF, Houston and Cincinnati.
And now, as of this writing, if it all comes together the way insiders say it’s coming together, BYU will at long last find its quorum.
Quorum of the 12.
No more will the Cougars endure playing for nothing. Or rather, playing for something that was far beyond their reach — a spot in the college football playoff.
No more will they have to dig down within themselves for motivation to keep practicing, keep working hard, keep busting their humps after suffering an early season loss or two.
It’s the essence of college sports, football in particular, to compete for something. The work is too arduous, otherwise. LaVell Edwards used to say before the start of every season that the No. 1 goal for him and his team was to win a conference championship.
A little tough that is when there is no championship for which to fight.
Even in the Cougars’ best years of independence, they were the kings of nothing. They played on television a whole lot, the school — and by extension, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — got some of the exposure for which they craved. But, ultimately, even if they had been good enough, they had no meaningful trophy to lift.
Now, they will. Or it seems they will.
How shiny will that trophy be, if BYU can scratch its way to the top of the Big 12?
The league is better, even without Texas and Oklahoma, than some want to claim. Add in the four newcomers, which would actually put the 12 back into the Big, and it could be said that the new league is better than some remaining P5 leagues, those that recently formed their alliance without the Big 12′s leftovers.
Such evaluations of strength vary from season to season, but the new Big 12, as projected, would be a more than respectable outfit.
TCU, Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas, BYU, UCF, Houston, Cincinnati.
That ain’t bad.
And when you throw in basketball?
Yeah, that ain’t bad.
For BYU, it’s a much improved situation in which to compete, not just for league championships, but — who knows? — maybe shots at bigger titles, bigger opportunities.
One of the more interesting aspects to all of this, if it actually happens, is at what level BYU will rise in results in the short term and the long. Are the Cougars good enough in their major sports to find a proper accounting right away, or will it take them a while, as it did for Utah in the Pac-12?
And with fertile football recruiting grounds added to their routine, not to mention more money, what kind of growth could that provide BYU moving forward?
Either way, if BYU gets in, no longer will there be empty Novembers on their football schedules. Don’t know all the legalese involved in the Cougars extracting themselves from some of the games already on their schedules, but, like most things these days, what’s scribbled on paper can usually be erased, one way or another, one pay off or another.
As the Big 12 presidents and administrators conduct their meetings this week, it’s all big for BYU.
From purely a sports perspective, if they do get their invitation, the Cougars will at last receive what they’ve deserved for a long time — a proper and powerful place to call home.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.