Rumors of Big 12 conference expansion turned out to be much ado about nothing. Big 12 presidents passed on adding BYU and other potential candidates on Monday afternoon, opting to remain at 10 teams for the foreseeable future.
Oklahoma president David Boren said all ten schools were unanimous in their decision not to expand. This decision comes after Big 12 announced it would consider adding two to four teams back in July.
“We decided after a very thorough discussion that we would remain at 10 members,” said Boren, the chairman of the conference’s expansion committee. “We committed ourselves to that proposition and each other. … I would say as we look at the whole outcome of this meeting, it was a very positive meeting in terms of expressing the cohesion of this conference and the unity of this conference on this issue.”
For BYU, this means that the immediate future remains tied to independence in football and West Coast Conference membership in a majority of the school’s other sports. Long-term viability as an FBS independent is uncertain amid the changing college football landscape, but the Cougars are confident that they have positioned themselves well for whatever lies ahead.
“BYU strives to run its athletic program like a P5 institution. Our national fan base and broadcast ratings, along with the many historical and recent successes of our teams, attest we certainly belong.” —BYU Athletics
“BYU strives to run its athletic program like a P5 institution,” the school said in a statement on Monday. “Our national fan base and broadcast ratings, along with the many historical and recent successes of our teams, attest we certainly belong. We believe BYU can significantly contribute to the athletic and academic excellence of a P5 conference.”
Did the Big 12’s decision to expand deliver a serious blow to the future of BYU’s athletic program? It remains to be seen what long-term impact lies ahead for the Cougars. For the immediate future, BYU offers several compelling reasons it can survive while outside a Power 5 conference.
1. BYU is a national brand
Being the flagship school of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints gives BYU a fan base that extends far beyond Utah and the Mountain time zone. A significant percentage of Mormons throughout the United States cheer for the Cougars. BYU regularly draws thousands and, occasionally, tens of thousands of fans for road games from coast-to-coast.
This is one reason why the Cougars are able to work out deals for neutral site games in NFL stadiums and put together home-and-home deals with many P5 schools. BYU offers a good draw at the ticket office and draws plenty of viewers on the TV screens.
2. Cougars are consistently competitive with many P5 programs
BYU took the ambitious step of playing six P5 schools this season – the most since facing seven P5 teams in 2013. The Cougars navigated a tougher schedule better than expected, going 3–3 against P5 teams with wins over Arizona, Michigan State and Mississippi State and close losses to Utah, UCLA and West Virginia decided by a total of seven points.
Since leaving the Mountain West Conference in 2011, BYU has posted a 13–18 (.419) record against current P5 opponents. The Cougars went undefeated vs P5 teams in 2014 (3–0) and have tallied seven total wins over P5 schools in the past three seasons alone.
3. BYU possesses a strong media footprint
Having a contract with ESPN makes it easier for BYU to schedule higher profile teams than back in its Mountain West Conference days. Ratings for games on ESPN networks are consistently solid and it offers valuable exposure for both BYU and other teams who want to get their product in front of a nationwide audience.
Through its first seven games in 2016, BYU has pulled in more than 500,000 viewers for every game and had three games eclipse 1 million viewers. When the Cougars played at Michigan State on a split national ABC broadcast, it drew a season-high 3.25 million viewers. BYU’s games against Utah (1.693 million viewers) and Mississippi State (1.474 million viewers) also drew respectable numbers during nationwide broadcasts on FOX and ESPN respectively.
Playing on national TV on a regular basis offers a nice selling point to recruits. BYU can reel in a larger number of talented athletes than during its MWC days because it has become much more visible to these players and their families.
4. Kalani Sitake and his coaching staff are good recruiters
From his days as an assistant coach at Utah until now, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has developed a reputation as a tenacious and effective recruiter. Sitake knows how to sell the virtues of his program. Bringing in the best available players is the most critical element to long-term success for the Cougars.
247 Sports ranked BYU’s 2016 recruiting class 51st among FBS teams — the highest ranking for the team since 2010. The Cougars pulled this off even amid an abbreviated recruiting push by Sitake who took over the team in late December. If BYU can remain this competitive in recruiting, there should be no shortage of talent available to help the Cougars while they forge a path as an independent team.
BYU’s growing academic reputation offers a nice boost to recruiting efforts. U.S. News and World Report currently ranks the school 68th among national universities. BYU also ranks 32nd nationally for business programs and is ranked 15th among best value schools.
5. The Cougars boast a strong overall athletic program
BYU is not a school that hangs its hat on being competitive in a single sport. The Cougars have made major strides in several Olympic sports since joining the West Coast Conference. Men’s basketball has struggled in WCC play, but the rest of BYU’s sports teams are much more competitive on a national level since joining the league.
Women’s soccer and women’s volleyball both offer evidence of this progression. BYU is currently ranked in the Top 10 in women’s soccer and in the Top 20 in women’s volleyball. The Cougars finished as national runner-up in women’s volleyball after reaching the Final Four in 2014 and reached the Elite Eight in in women’s soccer in 2012.