The third program we’ve profiled as an interesting candidate for Big 12 membership is Brigham Young. The administration has been quiet regarding its intentions, only offering at the end of the month that the focus is on the Cougars’ current status as a member of the West Coast Conference (and a football independent).Should Texas A&M indeed leave, a quick glance at BYU shows a solid athletic tradition built on football and competitive in basketball. That ought to appeal to the Big 12 Conference.
Reading this blog, you are surely familiar with Jimmer Fredette, BYU’s recently-departed scoring machine whose long three-pointers were as fun to watch as his name is to say. The name and game combined to make Fredette famous last year as BYU, a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tourney, made its way to the Sweet 16 and shared the Mountain West Conference title with San Diego State.
But BYU was no upstart last year. In fact, Dave Rose’s club has made the NCAA Tournament each of the last five years: Kansas, Texas and Texas A&M are the only Big 12 programs who can say that.
Fredette was merely the second Cougar to be named National Player of the Year. Danny Ainge earned the distinction in 1981, when the Cougars made the Elite Eight (their best ever NCAA finish).
Now, BYU moves to the West Coast Conference, and the administration can’t be blamed for saying they’d like to settle in there as opposed to publicly courting another new league. But as Greg pointed out in the SMU article, conference affiliation is football-driven, and BYU’s new status as an independent goes against the trend. In the 1990s, most big athletic programs which were independent in football joined conferences (Florida State, South Carolina, etc.) to maximize exposure and bowl opportunities.
Additionally, the BCS qualifying rules for non-AQ football programs have been relaxed in recent years. This has allowed TCU, Boise State, Utah and Hawaii to compete in top tier bowls and take in the money that follows. BYU is set up to operate and compete like a big-time athletic program even moving to a smaller conference like the West Coast (which interestingly consists exclusively of religious schools, like Gonzaga and St. Mary’s).
For these reasons, I don’t see BYU as a likely addition to the Big 12. Compared to an SMU or a Houston, the school isn’t as desperate for whatever the Big 12 might offer at this point.
But it wouldn’t be a shock, either. Remember that Utah jumped ship to the Pac-12 even after its Fiesta Bowl victory as a non-AQ, and TCU will move to the Big East despite winning the Rose Bowl last year.
The Cougars have won 30 games the past two basketball seasons and would be a great addition to the league. The football program won a national championship in 1984 and stills fills a 60,000+ seat stadium regularly. But BYU is in a better position today to compete at a high level and take in big-time revenue than most other athletic programs in small conferences, and that’s why I think the Cougars might stay put.
The Big 12 would love to have Brigham Young University if the “10th Man” Aggies leave. I think it would take a deal far more lucrative than what the school already has to make that a distinct possibility, though BYU has shown itself an athletic program worth pursuing.