Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Big 12? Big East? Big Waste of Time?

BYU's Athletic Director, Tom Holmoe, finally broke the month-long silence a couple weeks ago and talked with the media about the Big 12.  In response to the question, "So BYU has not turned down an invitation? ":

"That’s right. It’s hard to turn down an offer when one hasn’t been extended.".

The reason this is not newsworthy, is because it's double-talk.  It may be true that BYU didn't receive an offer and didn't turn down an offer.  However, BYU won't receive an offer until all the negotiating points are worked out and the Big 12 is certain they will accept it.  Now there are rumors of the Big East possibly looking to add BYU and the negotiating starts again.

So, the real question is "What is keeping BYU from coming to an agreement with a BCS conference?".  Let's look at the factors.  (Note that I compare often to Utah, since they just made a jump to a BCS conference, and for the past 10 years have had very similar football success to BYU, if not slightly better).


While BYU never talks about money -- and always says it is about "exposure" -- money matters.  Would BYU make more money as an independent or as a member of the Big 12 or Big East?

BYU's TV revenue this year is estimated at about $10 million.  In addition, BYU gets to keep all bowl revenue.  As a comparison, BYU made $2 million last year in the MWC.

Big 12 TV revenues are estimated at about $15-17 million per year per team and expected to grow substantially when the ABC/ESPN deal comes up for renewal in 2016.

Big East TV revenues are estimated at about $7-10 million per year per team, but also are expected to grow substantially when their contract comes up for renewal in 2014.

Seems like a clear increase in revenues for the Big 12.  Well, that's true in the long run, but not necessarily in the short run.  According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, TCU receives 50% the first year ($8M), 67% the 2nd year ($11M), 84% the 3rd year ($13M), and 100% the 4th year ($16M).

In the first 4 years, TCU will make an estimated $48M.  BYU, as an independent in the next four years, will make an estimated $40M.  Utah got accepted to the Pac-12, but won't receive any revenue this year, and won't be full revenue until the 4th year.

For Utah and TCU, the finances are a no-brainer, because the MWC was only paying $2 million.  For BYU, the finances are not as overwhelming, although still very enticing in the long run.

TV Exposure

Besides the greater revenues, the main reason BYU went independent was for increased national TV exposure on the ESPN networks, along with the ability to broadcast other games nationally on BYUtv.  The ability to re-broadcast all games on BYUtv was an added bonus.  The TV arrangement has been one of the great successes of BYU's first year in independence, as 11 of BYU's 12 games are on live, national TV.

In contrast, in Utah's first year in the Pac-12, only 2 games are on national TV and both are due to the opponents' TV contracts (BYU, Pitt).  Utah has various games on Fox Sports regional network, but three games are on Utah-only TV (KJZZ).  Once you are in a conference, the TV rights are relinquished, and you have no control.

In negotiating TV rights with a conference, BYU will want to maintain national exposure, and the ability to broadcast games on BYUtv that are not picked up by the national TV partners, as well as the ability to rebroadcast games. This is not a minor point for BYU administrators, and shouldn't be minor for BYU fans that are outside of Utah.  Hundreds of thousands more BYU fans have had access this year to live broadcasts of BYU games, whether on an ESPN channel, or via rebroadcasts on BYUtv nationally, internationally and online.  National broadcasts are pretty much guaranteed to drop if BYU joins a conference.

Will the thousands of BYU fans in California be happy if BYU plays Oklahoma and they can't see it?  This could happen if the game were on Fox Sports Regional channels, but Fox Sports Pacific chooses to show USC-Washington at the same time.


As we've seen with Utah's move to the Pac-12, the competition in a BCS conference week-in and week-out is much stiffer.  After an 0-4 start in conference play, and a serious risk of not becoming bowl eligible, Utah fans are left wondering how good of a move it was.

How would BYU fare in the Big 12?  It's very difficult to judge this, but we'll just take one measurement to see how they would rank in past years.  Taking the ranking composite (computer and humans) from this web site, we'll see how BYU would rank in the Big 12 and Big East in each of the last 10 years:

Year BYU national rank BYU rank among Big 12 teams Record of Big 12 team in that place BYU rank among Big East teams Record of Big East team in that place
2010 58 9 5-7 4 7-5
2009 18 2 9-4 3 9-3
2008 22 6 8-4 3 8-4
2007 17 4 9-3 4 9-3
2006 19 3 9-4 4 11-2
2005 53 10 5-6 6 5-6
2004 49 8 4-7 6 7-4
2003 75 10 3-9 8 5-7
2002 80 10 3-9 8 4-8
2001 22 5 8-4 5 7-5

As Utah has discovered, the weekly grind in a BCS conference can take a toll and turn into more losses than expected.  While BYU fans are used to 2-3 losses per year and a bowl game, in the Big 12 or Big East, it would more likely be 4-7 losses per year, with no bowl game every third year.

Bowls/BCS Access

The Big 12 and the Big East champions have an automatic bid to a BCS bowl, so on the surface, it seems that if BYU were in the Big 12 or Big East, it would have better access to the BCS.  This is only true, however, if BYU wins the conference.  From the statistics above, in the last 10 years, BYU has never ranked above the Big 12 nor the Big East champion in any year.  It is possible that BYU would never win the Big 12 or Big East conference and get the automatic bid to a BCS game.  For example, Oklahoma State has never won the Big 12 and never gone to a BCS game, even though they have had a really nice program for many years.

In contrast, Utah, TCU and Boise State all went to multiple BCS bowl games from non-AQ conferences.  Most observers would say it's actually easier to get to a BCS bowl from a non-AQ conference than from a BCS conference.  I'd be willing to bet that neither Utah nor TCU will make a BCS bowl in the next 10 years, due to the increased competition in their schedules.

So, BYU would technically have greater BCS access, but in reality would rarely, if ever, make a BCS bowl as a member of the Big 12 or Big East.  
As long as Notre Dame stays independent, there will always be some way for an independent to get to a BCS bowl.  If Notre Dame joins a conference, BYU should jump on board really quick. 


There have been reports that the Big 12 TV partners weren't happy with BYU's no Sunday rule.  TV partners want the option to show a basketball championship game, for example, on Sunday.  BYU will also want to avoid games on Conference Saturday in October.  These two demands may be the main thing that keeps them out of every major conference.  Remember, TV pays the bills, so TV wants to decide when games are played.  This is why BYU's deal with ESPN is so unique.

Of course, the scheduling nightmares of being independent are immediately resolved by joining a conference.  Meaningful games in November are built-in.


One argument fans always bring up in these debates is, "If we are in a BCS conference, we will get better recruits".  This can be debated for years (and has been).  There is no way to know this, but I don't believe going to the Big 12 or Big East would change much.  BYU already has a very limited recruiting pool, due to the honor code.  When BYU loses a recruit, more often than not, it's to a Pac-12 team.  In fact, over the past 5 years, when BYU has lost a recruit that it offered a scholarship to, 55% of the time the recruit chose Utah or another Pac-12 school.  BYU recruits chose Big 12 teams only 9% of the time.  The reason for this is that most BYU recruits are LDS kids from the western U.S.  They have grown up in Utah or Pac-12 areas and have  followed Pac-12 teams.  If BYU were to join the Pac-12, recruiting may improve, but going to the Big 12 or Big East vs. Independence...I'd say it's a wash.  Again, very debatable and impossible to predict.


Be careful what you wish for.  While there may be more money in the Big 12 or a future Big East, it's very likely that national TV exposure, wins, and BCS bowls could be harder to come by.   As it stands right now, Independence looks like a perfect fit for BYU football.


  1. Great run down. All the points, I believe, are dead on.

  2. Great thoughts, well presented. I think you're right on. I think that the only current reason to join a conference would be if it proves impossible to have a competetive schedule that is conducive to success. If the landscape changes, either changes in the BCS model, or conferences of sufficient size that non-conference scheduling becomes difficult/impossible; then the decision parameters would obviously change too.

  3. So who wrote this blog? From what this person writes BYU is better off as an Indy, that recruiting will stay the same for BYU.I disavow both of these ideas in my opinion. If BYU wants to be a little fish in a no name independence program they will remain so. If BYU gets into the Big East or the Big 12 they will have more exposure on the field and will be playing in whatever conference's recruiting area and will therefore be exposed to recruits there whether they on on TV or not.If BYU goes it alone I foresee seasons like this one where they play meaningless "exhibition" football games and will have no conference championships to fight for.And what about the other sports like basketball and the olympic sports? If BYU were in a major BCS conference they would be competing against the best in all of these sports on a consistent basis. Playing meaningless exhibitions football games might get BYU more exposure in the short run, but will not get them national exposure in the long run if they can't recruit great players beccause they will not be in a national exposure BCS AQ conference. That goes for all sports.

  4. Right on. I think BYU's mission is better served by staying independent. I feel major college sports is becomming more and more corrupt, and will get worse. Staying independent allows BYU to stay true to its standards. I'd rather football be the dominant FCS (yes 1-AA) program than return to the scandals of the Crowton era that are so common at many BCS schools.

  5. A very objective look at the current BYU sports situation and possible future. If only the local media could be as objective!

  6. Well written analysis.

    I'd like to see a follow-up article on what it's going to take for BYU to do what they talk about doing all off-season: win meaningful games and compete for a national championship. The caliber of play seems to have diminished over the past couple of years, and I am starting to wonder if we're seeing diminishing returns from Bronco's approach to leading the program? We don't seem to have the innovative scheming (Xs & Os) that characterized BYU football in our more progressive and successful years. Nor are we playing to the caliber of talent we have on the field.

    All of that points at coaching. I get and agree with the focus on exposure. The thing is, the greatest exposure comes from winning--regardless your conference affiliation. A candid assessment of program deficiencies and areas of improvement needing to be addressed to take BYU football to the next level would be a great follow on piece.

    Go Cougs!

  7. I agree on all points. I was a little discouraged when BYU initially didn't get the offer to the BIG 12, but I am now starting to rethink the entire picture. Staying independent is in our best interest for the time being. Things could change, but I think we should ride this train a little further.

  8. "A very objective look at the current BYU sports situation"

    It's only a look at the *football* situation. And Rose deserves better treatment from BYU fans than our one-sided analyses of whether indy is better than power-conference.

  9. I think BYU should rush to the Big East.

    It's a BCS league and will likely stay that way. But in reality, it'll mean BYU needs to take down Boise to go to the big dance. The Big East is not the lion's den. It's a bunch of quality (and some less-so) schools, but nobody truly daunting.

    Sunday play is a non-issue since football isn't played on that day.

    Revenue is negligible. Recruiting won't be hurt and will likely be helped to at least a small degree.

    In the end, joining the Big East means we'll have some quality games in November and could mean an end-of-year showdown vs. Boise State every year.

    I for one would rather see Air Force, Rutgers, and Houston on the schedule than Idaho, Idaho State and New Mexico State.

    Plus, it'd probably make it easier to get some non-conference games in the Marriott Center vs. Big East teams. has the rest of my thoughts.

  10. Seriously very high level reporting. Excellent break down of where we would have ranked in Big 12 and Big East over last 10 years and the record of the team in that spot.

    But your best point was about recruiting, but it was a sad one, i.e., that we lose recruits to Pac-12 teams when we lose them. that makes it all the worse that Utah got that invite instead of us. We were better for that spot in every single way except being religious.

  11. I do not think this blog was objective. The arguments made and statistics given had an obvious pro-independent spin in my opinion. The only really good point about the current situation is that it is much better than being in the mountain west conference. When BYU loses a game in an independent schedule, there is virtually no chance of making a BCS bowl game. In the next couple of years BYU’s schedule is going to be about as hard or harder than being in the Big East anyways but at least in the Big East BYU could lose a game or two and still have a meaningful season. Now after losing one game, BYU fans get to look forward to the Armed Forces Bowl. BYU is not Notre Dame; I think it needs a conference to keep fans intrigued. I think Boise and Houston would be fun rival games to watch also.

  12. Living in Charlotte, NC I have been able to see every BYU game this year. I was even able to downgrade my DirecTv package because I did not need a special package to get the channels BYU was on. If BYU joins any conference, there is no way this would have been possible. I love the idea that the Big 12 brings to BYU but I fear I need to be careful what I wish for. After a lot of thought, I believe Independence may be the best for BYU and for me.

  13. I don't agree with this article at all. What BYU needs for its program is credibility. Everyone has maintained over the years that they don't play anyone. If they get into the Big 12 they will play "someone" every year in conference and they will have to lift their program to the standard of playing with the big boys. It is very easy to win exhibition games, just look at their record this year. Playing against stiffer competition also exposes coaching staff inadequacies which is also a good thing. I think being a part of a conference like the Big 12 would definitely help recruiting, again it all points to credibility and the strength of a program.

  14. Very astute analysis. I like BYU right where it is now. I don't think it should concede TV exposure just to get into a name-brand conference. Money is important but is not THE issue for BYU--exposure is. I also like the WCC for non-football sports. Here is a conference with like-minded institutions that are excited to have us as a member. It is also important for BYU to uphold its commitment to the WCC. I hope BYU can stay the course, at least for awhile.

  15. Another point: BYU is not like any other college, nor will it ever be. Being just another fish in a big pond (BCS Conference) is not what BYU is trying to accomplish. BYU is trying to stand out as a light to the world. Athletes who train hard, play hard and excel as great, well-rounded people. Athletes who are able to overachieve in all areas of life because of discipline. BYU loses very few recruits who fit this mold. They lose recruits who are more focused on athletics than they are on the more important things in life. Bronco totally gets this. Those of you who view BYU as just a sports program are missing the boat. Win a National Championship at all costs should never be the goal.

  16. This article is spot on! Reality hurts all college football fans and as a huge cougar fan I would love for them to be bcs worthy every year. Unfortunately it just isn't going to happening as much as we wish it will. 20-30 years ago BYU had more scholarships to give and could pick the best options in many of the western states but now with limited scholarships and Boise st in div I and a BYU alumn at Utah we lose recruits to both those schools so we really aren't going to be the force in the west like yesteryear. No one can argue that exposure isn't better this year then years past so don't even go there. You just sound like an idiot saying we will get better coverage in a bcs conference. I live in PAC 12 country and unless you live in the city of that school you get zero coverage so stop saying bcs conferences get better national coverage because they don't unless they are the one or two big school in that conference. As far as money is concerned BYU is one of the tightest ships in the country. They will never chase the money....PERIOD!! They jumped up in income so much in the next 8 years they are set. Besides why do you want to spend all your money flying other sports all across the big east your net gain is not worth it. We also forget that this games that we play in a neutral sight early in the season we get payed like a lower level bowl. So even though it isn't sexy like going to the rose bowl maybe we need to enjoy our two bowl games a year and our ten games on ESPN and drink a root beer in the shade and smile.

  17. How many times would BYU have won a Big East conference without Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia?

  18. I disagree with this article. I think staying independent hurts us severely in the long run. We have to have access to a BCS conference--for recruiting (the only way we can compete!), having something to play for (look at our last 3 games), our OTHER sports, and to remain RELEVANT. We are no Notre Dame, people. We cannot expect the same. Oh and btw, distance is not a valid argument--even as independent, we will be flying all over the place

  19. When you make a choice, you take the good with the bad. Whatever choice BYU makes, there will be something bad about it that we will all have to accept.
    If I could make all the choices, I would take inclusion in the Big East with auto-BCS status and a solo ESPN contract and BYUtv broadcast rights. But that would never happen.

  20. Very nice article although I think you missed the most important sticking point for die hard fans like me who remember that there is more to college football than silly meaningless BCS bowl games - a national championship. Some of us remember that not too long ago a team called BYU won that national championship. It's like getting the iPhone for the first time...once you have one, that is all you want and nothing less.