After years of flirting with one another, BYU and the Big 12 have finally agreed to form a partnership. BYU will move into the Big 12, at last. Independence might be good for a country or a college kid, but not for a college football team, and the Cougars are glad to surrender their 11-year self-imposed independence to accept the invitation to join a Power Five conference.
And the not-so-big Big 12 should be grateful.
The Big 12 might act like it is doing the Cougars a favor by extending the invitation, but you could easily argue that it’s the other way around. The Big 12 — which has lost more partners than Nicolas Cage — needs the Cougars more than the Cougars need the Big 12.
Texas and Oklahoma — the league’s only remaining brand names (actually they are the brand) — announced this year that they are leaving the Big 12 and joining the SEC in 2025. This comes a decade after the Big 12 lost Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Texas A&M to Power Five conferences, as well. The Big 12 signed up TCU and West Virginia as replacements, but that still left the league with just 10 members, which didn’t even live up to its name.
The Big 12 invited BYU — as well as Boise State, Colorado State, Houston and other schools — to apply for membership a few years ago, but ultimately rejected them and decided against expansion, which seemed like bad manners, if nothing else. Why did they bother to call in the first place?
Some LGBTQ groups protested against BYU’s candidacy at the time because of its stand on homosexuality — the Iowa State student senate passed a resolution against the school’s application — which certainly didn’t help BYU’s cause (even though the league already had two religious-based schools and one of them, Baylor had stipulated that students weren’t allowed to participate in LGBT organizations). Strangely, that has all gone away five years later.
Anyway, now that the Big 12 has lost Texas and Oklahoma, leaving them with eight members, the league turned again to the Cougars, among others, out of desperation. It’s as if the Cougars had asked out the homecoming queen several years ago, and she turned them down because she was dating the BMOC, but then he dumped her so she called up the Cougars to see if they were still interested.
And they are, but their ardor has probably cooled. The Cougars cannot pass up the chance to join a P5 conference, compete for conference championships and have a clear-cut avenue to the national playoff — but you couldn’t blame them if they did. In reality BYU was already a Power Five team in all but name — the Power Five conferences all officially have given the Cougars that designation when it comes to scheduling — and the Big 12 was a Power Five conference in name only after Texas and Oklahoma bolted for the SEC. The Big 12 obviously is not what it used to be. Losing Texas and Oklahoma would be the equivalent of the Beatles going on stage without Paul and John.
The Cougars are one of four schools that were invited this week to join the Big 12, the others being Houston, UCF and Cincinnati. The latter three certainly lack cachet. BYU is easily the prize catch among those four schools.
Based on the rankings in U.S. News and World Report, the Cougars are tied for second as the strongest academic institution in the Big 12 if you don’t count outbound Texas. Texas is ranked 42nd, Baylor 76th, BYU and TCU tied for 80th, Iowa State 118th, and so on. This despite the fact that BYU’s academic ranking has slipped from the mid-60s a few years ago.
BYU also will field an athletic program that will rank at the top of the Big 12. The Cougars ranked 17th out of 293 Division I schools in the final Directors’ Cup standings for 2020-21 — higher than any school in the Big 12 except outgoing Texas, which was ranked No. 1. Oklahoma State was ranked 18th.
The Directors’ Cup awards points for a school’s performance in each sport, thus rewarding broad-based athletic departments. The Cougars scored well across the board, in football, women’s and men’s basketball, women’s and men’s outdoor and indoor track and cross-country, men’s and women’s volleyball, women’s gymnastics, women’s soccer and softball.
With Texas and Oklahoma on the way out, the Cougars also will rank at the top of the conference in football. They have more top-25 finishes than six of the current eight schools, more national championships than all but one school (TCU, tied with one), and more bowl wins than six of the schools. The Cougars also can claim a Heisman Trophy winner and dozens of conference titles, All-Americans, and 18 top-25 rankings.
Considering BYU’s record on the field, its national TV audience and its marketability, The Athletic concluded several weeks ago that BYU would rank second only to TCU among current Big 12 members.
At the end of the day, the Big 12 has improved the conference considerably simply by bringing BYU into its ranks.