Provo • When Kalani Sitake walked into his first Big 12 coaches’ meetings in Scottsdale this spring, he saw a mixture of old and new.
Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian was there — the one-time BYU quarterback and current lightning rod of the conference. The two talked about playing in BYU’s alumni game and Sarkisian’s plans to visit Provo.
When Sitake pivoted to his right, he saw Baylor coach Dave Aranda and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. These were two guys he shared no background with but was familiar with their work. Both have been to New Year’s Six Bowl games in the last year.
And this is pretty much how Big 12 meetings have gone for BYU. Sitake and athletic director Tom Holmoe feel like they belong — with the long-standing relationships with many members to back it up. But there is also a feeling of shock, a realization there is still plenty of work to be done to catch up to the Baylors and Oklahoma States of the conference.
“We know the schools well. We have played a lot of the schools [in the Big 12],” Holmoe said. “But when you walk into the room you say this is real now… I don’t know if we’re ready, but I know we’ve planned long and hard and I think that’s the key.”
For Holmoe and Sitake, the next year will be about turning that planning into action. This means creating a coherent name, image and likeness strategy, continuing to add resources to the football program and finalizing its transition to the Big 12′s revenue-sharing model.
Holmoe and Sitake spoke to those overarching topics at BYU’s final media day as an independent.
NIL and BYU
The question posed to Holmoe was simple: “Do you think NIL has gotten out of hand?”
And Holmoe’s response matched the simplicity: “Yes.”
It was an honest response for the athletic director heading to the Big 12. He knows an NIL strategy will be a key pillar of recruiting at the Power Five level. Yet, he insisted there needs to be more regulation.
“I don’t know how you can get it back in hand,” Holmoe said. “I don’t know if we can. There are a lot of people working on ideas. We have too many people split on issues. There is a lot of PR and the media involved. It is hard to come up with one solution. Possibly the government [should step in].”
Holmoe and Sitake have both advocated for finding an NIL strategy that fits with the profile of the school. Sitake has been vocal about NIL deals that benefit the entire team. Last summer, Built Bar did a team-wide deal that included giving full scholarships to walk-ons.
BYU’s fanbase, as it stands today, has one NIL Collective.
“We want to make sure that it is in line with the mission of our church and the mission of our school,” Sitake said. “The key for us is to make sure our young men understand what they represent and who they represent. We will keep the focus in line with that.”
That said, Holmoe acknowledged not every school will follow this strategy at the Power Five level. He believes schools have induced players in the transfer portal, offering NIL deals and money to come play for a school.
“It has gotten crazy,” Holmoe said. “I think Kalani has a stable look at the NIL. I think our players feel good about it. We have a number of players with individual deals. I think people look at NIL as black and white. I am more for it. But there are rules that have to be changed.”
Finalizing the transition
BYU will join the Big 12 in 2023, but now the final pieces of the transition are being finalized.
BYU will become a full-share member of the Big 12 — receiving the full revenue from the conference — in its third year in the league, a spokesperson confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune.
The football program will also play a nine-game conference schedule in 2023, Holmoe said. It has long been speculated the Big 12 will adopt a nine-game format instead of an eight-game format, but it has yet to be officially released.
BYU will still have to add a non-conference game in 2023. However, Holmoe indicated BYU is finalizing a contract to add the game over the next several weeks.
“We are very close to a contract,” Holmoe said. “We basically have an agreement. Kalani and I talked, and we talked to the coaches. When we have a game to schedule a year out, it is very hard.”
Going forward, Holmoe said he hasn’t landed on a non-conference scheduling format he would like to adopt. Many Power Five programs use their three non-conference games to play an FCS team, a Group of Five team, and a Power Five team. Holmoe does not have a firm plan in place as to what he wants to do.
He did, however, indicate he hopes to play all six meetings scheduled against Utah over the next decade.
Timeline of resources
Holmoe promised an “unprecedented” allocation of resources to the football program when he re-signed Sitake to a long-term contract through 2027.
Yet, there has been a debate as to when these resources will come. So far, BYU continues to add additional staff. It has added several analysts and strength and conditioning coaches.
But Sitake has been hesitant to call any of the changes “unprecedented” so far. He continues to say he would like more resources.
“We have more people on the job, it makes it easier,” Sitake said. “I like that there has been a progressive change. It’s like, ‘OK, let’s keep it going.’ I think Tom said it has changed a lot of faster in the last 10 months. Of course, but you are going to see a lot more progress in the next year.”
He said he will continue to make more hires to the staff over the next several months. Sitake says there is a blueprint BYU can follow from other Power Five schools as to what a staff at this level looks like.
Holmoe has been hesitant to point to any one school as a way BYU will model its additional hires after.
“We’ll never look exactly like another athletic department,” he said. “BYU is different, and we’ll continue to be different. But as we’ve proven over the years, our uniqueness will not hold us back from being successful. In fact, it is what will ultimately make us the most successful we can be.”