BYU is embarking on its fourth season as a football independent since leaving the Mountain West Conference behind. At the time the decision was made to abandon conference affiliation in football, there was a sense of pride and ambition for the program and the plan actually seemed to make some sense early on. What BYU may have failed to predict was the continued evolution of the college football landscape and how it would impact BYU. Now, perhaps feeling a need to secure a footing in the college football world, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall is letting it be known his program would appreciate consideration for a spot in the Big 12. Why wouldn’t he?
“We would love to be in the Big 12,” Mendenhall said in a story posted by the Austin American-Statesman. “I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense. In fact, if that was your headline, that would be great.”
It would make plenty of sense for BYU. Not only would a spot in the Big 12 cement BYU with a connection to one of the power conferences in college football, lump it in with brands like Texas and Oklahoma, but it would solve one of the biggest problems BYU faces as an independent; scheduling. The stress of having to fill out a 12-game schedule annually would be relieved with eight or nine conference games locked in every season. BYU would also cash in on Big 12 conference revenues, which could end up being more profitable than the current financial structure in place for BYU despite having power to arrange its own media rights deals without having to share a dime with any other school.
If the Pac-12 was not going to invite BYU (it opted for Utah and Colorado, remember), then the Big 12 is the most logical conference destination for BYU if it is to be a part of a power conference. The problem is, the need to add BYU is not there for the Big 12, a conference establishing a comfort level with a 10-member line-up after letting the ground settle in conference realignment madness of recent years.
Mendenhall has seen the way power conferences are viewing Notre Dame and feels BYU is deserving of that same level of respect as an independent. Notre Dame will qualify as a power conference opponent for the ACC’s non-conference scheduling requirement, but BYU will not. This does not sit well for the head coach at BYU.
From the Austin American-Statesman;
“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Mendenhall said. “I could have given you that instead of the longer answer. I’m just wondering who fights for us as an independent?
“Between myself and my basketball coaches, there’s no two featured programs that have won more games,” Mendenhall continued. “Our attendance is high enough. And our winning percentage is high enough.
“We have the entire Salt Lake City and Utah market as well as a worldwide following because of the church. There’d be a ton to offer the Big 12, because it’s a money-generated world right now. You’re talking about an amazing kind of brand.”
The Big 12 has said time and time again it is fine sitting on a membership of ten schools. For the Big 12, the lack of a conference championship game has not been a major concern, to this point at least. One of the big questions moving into the College Football Playoff era is what will the impact of a conference championship game have. If it looks as though the Big 12 is losing a step to the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 because it does not play a championship game, rumbles about expansion may kick up some dust. If that is the case, would BYU be among the potential candidates?
It appears there are four options for BYU.
1. The Big 12 answers Mendenhall’s prayers and invites the Cougars to join the conference along with some other school to get to 12 members and play a conference championship game. This is likely a long shot at best right now.
2. Work with the Big 12 to establish some sort of relationship similar in structure to the ACC’s deal with Notre Dame. Having five games with BYU on the schedule certainly is not a drain on the Big 12’s non-conference schedule and it provides BYU with some more stability with scheduling. If BYU can even sneak into the Big 12’s bowl line-up the way Notre Dame will in the ACC, that is a bonus.
3. BYU continues as a football independent, hoping to secure scheduling deals with Pac-12 schools (like UCLA) and push for national scheduling. This may urn out to be the most likely scenario, and may still be the best case scenario if the power conferences do not totally split off from the rest fo the NCAA.
4. BYU gets left behind in the power shift in college football and rejoins the Mountain West Conference, providing for schedule stability in whatever happens in the future of the college football landscape.
Are there any other options on the table for BYU? Which is the best plan?