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How will the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC alliance impact independent BYU?

As a college football independent, Cougars rely on games against alliance members, especially the Pac-12, to beef up and fill out their schedules

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BYU and USC, who battled to overtime in 2019, will meet on Nov. 27, 2021, in the final regular season game for both teams.

BYU lines up against USC in Provo on Sept 14, 2019. BYU won 30-27 in overtime.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Pac-12, Atlantic Coast (ACC) and Big Ten conferences announced a “historic alliance” on Tuesday in which the Power Five conferences and their 41 institutions say they will take a “collaborative approach surrounding the future evolution of college athletics and scheduling.”

Almost immediately, BYU fans began speculating about what kind of an impact the alliance will have on Cougar athletics, most notably the football team. That’s because as a college football independent, BYU relies on scheduling games against teams from all three leagues, most especially the Pac-12.

On the athletic fields and courts, there shouldn’t be much cause for alarm, thanks to one particular line in the news release sent out by all three conferences:

“The scheduling alliance will begin as soon as practical while honoring current contractual obligations,” the release said.

So it does not appear that any of the games BYU has scheduled against Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten teams will fall by the wayside any time soon. How the alliance’s plan will impact future scheduling talks remains to be seen. BYU’s athletic director has said the Cougars would like to play the “best competition possible” as an independent, which usually means three to five Power Five opponents per year.

BYU is scheduled to play five Pac-12 teams this season — Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, Washington State and USC — and one program from the ACC, former Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall’s Virginia Cavaliers. Its seventh Power Five opponent is Baylor of the Big 12, which was curiously left out of the alliance.

Most national pundits agreed Tuesday that the primary reason for the formation of the alliance is to counteract what the powerful Southeastern Conference (SEC) did recently by luring Texas and Oklahoma away from the Big 12 to become even more dominating on the college sports landscape, particularly in regard to football.

BYU is not scheduled to play Utah in 2022 or 2023, but games against the Utes are scheduled from 2024 through 2028. No games are scheduled beyond that, but that’s not unusual because the rivals generally don’t schedule their games against each other that far out.

BYU already has 31 games scheduled with Power Five conference opponents from 2022 to 2035, including 25 against teams from the newly formed alliance (Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten). Contracts BYU has signed in the past with Power Five opponents generally have buyouts of $1 million or more.

Perhaps of more pressing concern for BYU is the alliance’s stated goal of “providing thought leadership on various opportunities and challenges facing college athletics” such as the following:

• Strong academic experience and support

• Diversity, equity and inclusion

• Social justice

• Postseason championships and future formats

When the Cougars were trying to get into the Big 12 a few years ago, concerns were raised from the LGTBQ community regarding BYU’s honor code and how it forbids homosexual behavior on campus. 

Could such language, and BYU’s status as a religious institution owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, be used as reasons to get out of contracts or shy away from playing the Cougars in the future? Most of BYU’s other sports compete in the West Coast Conference, which is comprised entirely of private, religious-based schools.

So BYU has some friends in the college sports landscape, but perhaps not as many in football — which pays the bills.

There is also an academic component to the alliance, as the release touted the 41 schools’ “innovative research that benefits communities around the world.”

BYU is an undergraduate-focused institution and not a Tier-1 research institution. It is also not a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and quite likely never will be, due to its religious affiliation.

According to the release, 27 of the 34 Power Five members in the AAU are among the 41 schools in the alliance, and 34 are ranked in the top 100 national universities by U.S. News and World Report. BYU is ranked 80th in that publication’s most recent rankings.

According to the release, “a working group comprised of athletic directors representing the three conferences will oversee the scheduling component of the alliance, including determine the criteria upon which scheduling decisions will be made.

“All three leagues and their respective institutions understand the scheduling decisions will be an evolutionary process given current scheduling commitments,” the release continued.

Many believe the alliance was also formed to delay the expansion of the College Football Playoff, which currently sits at four teams. Alliance members see playoff expansion as a way for the SEC to get more teams from its conference in the playoff.

At BYU’s football media day in June, Holmoe said he and BYU were generally in favor of expanding the playoff to eight or even 12 teams, because that would probably benefit the Cougars more than the current system.