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Historic Big 12 invite, manna for basketball program and praise for BYU’s Worthen and Holmoe

A long campaign for Big 12 membership is over, and basketball team now enters the top echelon of NCAA

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe speaks at a press conference announcing that BYU has accepted an invitation to the Big 12 Conference at BYU in Provo on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. BYU will play all sports provided by the Big 12 except for equestrian, rowing and wrestling. Men’s volleyball will continue to play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, as the Big 12 does not offer the sport.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe speaks at a press conference announcing that BYU has accepted an invitation to the Big 12 Conference at BYU in Provo on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. BYU will play all sports provided by the Big 12 except for equestrian, rowing and wrestling. Men’s volleyball will continue to play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, as the Big 12 does not offer the sport.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

You have to credit the top amigos.

BYU president Kevin J Worthen and athletic director Tom Holmoe deserve kudos for the Big 12 Conference invitation extended this week. Let them take a deep sip from their chalices of chocolate milk.

When expansion shook up college sports in 2010, they made a tough decision to go it alone as a football independent. They scratched and clawed and worked hard to make it work. They found a great and loyal partner in the WCC.

They took heat, endured criticism. Enemies took their shots to their programs, their independence and their station.

Still, they kept at work. They kept grinding and bore down in silence.

“None of this would have happened without Tom Holmoe,” said Worthen on Friday.

Ditto for the prez.

At the same time, they did a lot of things behind the scenes to clear a pathway to make the school available and attractive for an invite from the Big 12 presidents and administrators.

On Friday, it all came together with a historic invite to join the Big 12.

If you have to chisel the grins off the faces of Worthen and Holmoe, do it slowly. They deserve to enjoy the moment.

One of the more significant aspects of that move is not what it does for football recruiting and the elevation of the Olympic sports, but how it impacts two of their key investments: head basketball coach Mark Pope and the new basketball training facility.

“This will inarguably be the best basketball conference in the country,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

It is no secret that Pope is on his way up and will have other suitors come calling. He can recruit with the best, he’s a marketing genius, an inspiring leader, a competitive personality and coach. And he understands what it takes to get BYU to the next level.

This Big 12 deal should help Pope in myriad ways to live his dreams in Provo.

The Big 12 payout, estimated somewhere near $24 million a year, gives BYU an opportunity to be competitive with coaching salaries for both Pope and Kalani Sitake.

Pope has defeated national brand Gonzaga, as did Dave Rose, but beating the Zags for a conference title was almost impossible, as history showed in the WCC. That effort to recruit to even get close to that lofty company got a major lift Friday with the invitation to the Cougars to join the Big 12.

No, BYU will never overtake the Gonzaga machine, and it will be a struggle to keep up with its new companions, 2021 defending national champion Baylor, No. 3 Houston and the likes of perennial top-10 program Kansas. It’s a league that had six of the top 20 basketball teams in the country in 2021.

But it will be easier to recruit with the Big 12 badge.

The basketball component to BYU’s entry into the Big 12 is huge.

It’s got to motivate Pope and his staff, who have been on the cusp of signing some big-time players only to see them head to the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12.

Oh, it will still be restrictive to recruit to BYU with its admissions and honor code standards. But once you are in the club, the other thing just can’t be used effectively against you as in past decades.

BYU basketball has produced Hall of Famer Kresimir Cosic and Naismith Trophy national players of the year Danny Ainge and Jimmer Fredettte. This just gives Pope a little more hope that he can elevate BYU basketball even further on a consistent basis.

In BYU, the Big 12 will have the league’s largest basketball arena in the Marriott Center. Sans Texas and Oklahoma, the league will also inherit the largest football stadium in Big 12 territory in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

So, it goes both ways.

After Texas and Oklahoma announced a kind of treacherous departure to the SEC, the Big 12 really needed some answers back in August. The speed at which the Big 12 presidents acted in adding BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF showed just how serious they were.

This fast move also shows just how high BYU was on the list of the Big 12 as the nation’s No. 17-ranked athletic program in 2021. The Big 12 made significant concessions to BYU, including honoring its no Sunday play policy, keeping all sports (except men’s volleyball) as part of the package, paying for any departure penalty from the WCC, and giving the Cougars a share of any penalty payout required of Texas and Oklahoma.

This is a greased-up skid if you’ve ever seen one.

BYU fans deserve credit also. Their loyalty in packing the Marriott Center for WCC games, holding on through independence, showing up to games all across the country, including packing Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas last week — it all showed dedication and support on a national if not global basis.

BYU fans travel. It is a known commodity, a financial bump everywhere they go. Road venues know this and have added a “BYU premium” to their tickets just to get a little more coin.

That had to be a component to the invitation.

In 2016, the Big 12 looked at expansion but stood pat. That was kind of a brutal experiment for candidates who were asked to submit applications and be judged. But Holmoe said it was a launching pad for his staff and administration.

“Six years ago, people thought it might have been a failure when we didn’t get into the Big 12. But our coaches and our student-athletes and administrators determined, ‘This isn’t going to be a failure. This is going to be a launching point,’” said Holmoe.

Friday will go down as a significant date in BYU sports history: Big 12 Friday.

“Your iconic athletic tradition is a great addition to the Big 12,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “Provo is as picturesque of a football facility as found anywhere in the United States.”

“I appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into making this possible,” said Holme. “You know who you are, You have all paved the way.”

Music.

Music to collective ears of Cougar Nation.