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Why BYU should welcome a Big 12 invite if it comes

Scheduling, recruiting, competition for a title and bowls are among the reasons the Cougars should jump at the chance to join the Power Five league

Baylor’s Matt Ritchey stands on the field by a Big 12 Conference logo during game against TCU in Waco, Texas, Oct. 13, 2012.
Baylor’s Matt Ritchey stands on the field by a Big 12 Conference logo during game against TCU in Waco, Texas, on Oct. 13, 2012. The league is reportedly set to announce it will be inviting four teams into the league, including BYU.
Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press

If the Big 12 comes calling, BYU, keep it humble, but sprint to the party.

That’s a question this week may answer if you believe reports in USA Today, The Athletic, Yahoo and ESPN.

There’re plenty of reasons to celebrate in Provo if the Big 12 expands and adds BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF with the departure of Texas and Oklahoma coming.

The Cougars have endured an interesting journey as an independent — a college football life they’d be happy to keep. All these Pac-12 matchups? Nice. But keeping up independence is getting tougher to do by the month.

It’s been a noble run, taking on tough September schedules that few if any top 25 or Power Five programs schedule.

If the Big 12 invites BYU, jump at it. Imagine being Memphis and Boise State and be left wanting.

When BYU opted to leave the Mountain West Conference in 2010, it was a leap of faith.

BYU soon became an ESPN mainstay, albeit having to endure kickoff times that were past bedtime for many in the Central and Eastern time zones.

That a school not named Notre Dame pulled this off, playing Texas, Michigan, USC, Washington, Michigan State, Tennessee, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Cal, UCLA, Missouri, Arizona, Arizona State, West Virginia, and LSU …?

Well, it was independent buccaneer-ism.

Go Big 12 and athletic director Tom Holmoe can get a break.

Holmoe has spent the past decade flipping through his Rolodex, his phone glued to his ear. He’s had BYU’s broadcast partner ESPN on speed dial.

Scheduling football games as an independent is part dominoes, chess, Scrabble and poker. It is a tiring exercise in salesmanship and organization. It’s also thankless, behind-the-scenes, underappreciated work.

Holmoe has done this over and over again, year after year with quiet humility but anxious anticipation that the stars would align. Then you have Notre Dame putting him on hold for years upon years, and a chief rival deciding to check out for a few years.

He’s seen loyalty upfront with programs like Boise State and Utah State, but the thing is, the scheduling gig is destined to get tougher for an independent like BYU.

When Oklahoma and Texas bolted the Big 12 for the SEC, college football’s Power Five elite blinked.

Suddenly the golden chalice from which they sipped was threatened.

The moats around their castles that hide their gold turned murky.

Now that the ACC, Pac-12, and Big Ten are looking at a scheduling alliance, the available schedule fodder will become more meager in the months and years to come. Holmoe’s job, in his waning years before retirement, is due to become tougher with this scheduling chore.

When you are a member of a conference, you don’t have the freedom and creativity to answer multiple calls to play in NFL stadiums. On the other hand, you can afford to be lazy and let the conference office gift-wrap your eight to 10 games a year, a fill-in-the-slot, free fall of calendar dates that leave an athletic director to just fill in a few cupcake dates.

This is why BYU should look forward to a Big 12 invite — if it comes.

And there are other reasons.

Folks have used non-Power Five status to recruit against BYU. That would end as members of the coaching staff sell Big 12 competition and schedules. In particular, it would be a heavy talking point to local recruits, in particular some Latter-day Saint athletes whose heads have been turned by the glitter of a P5 offer and a pitch by rivals that they’d be somehow “less” fulfilled in Provo.

The end of that stick would be blunted, its prod points a little duller, its melody rolling with fewer lyrics that fit.

Playing for a conference title with conference honors is a BYU tradition, including dominance in the days of the WAC and moments of supremacy in the MWC. Former players loved it and crave it for their current brothers.

Trophy cases mean something, so do conference records and all-conference honors.

Players like weeks filled with playing for a prize, a trophy, the best bowl game available. In the case of the Big 12, it would be one of six New Year’s Day bowls, such as the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Liberty Bowl or Cheez-it Bowl, if not in a College Football Playoff bowl.

Playing for a conference championship and bowl pecking order, even if it isn’t for a CFP berth, is significantly enhanced in the Big 12.

That league’s bowl tie-ins include games in San Antonio (Alamo Bowl), Orlando (Cheez-It Bowl) and Houston (Texas Bowl).

Another benefit to conference affiliation is a kind of solidarity and protectionism by voters in The Associated Press poll and USA Today Coaches poll. Regionalism is real.

A sportswriter or broadcaster who covers the Pac-12 or Big 12 is likely to vote and bolster up league members. We saw it in the MWC days in the Rockies, San Diego, Albuquerque, Hawaii and Las Vegas. You see it in the Pac-12 in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City.

It’s a pack mentality, really.

According to USA Today, the most recent payouts per Power Five league were:

1. Big Ten: $54.3 million

2. SEC: $45.5 million

3. Big 12: $38 million

4. Pac-12: $33.6 million

5. ACC: $33 million

Of course, the Big 12 payout was based on Texas and Oklahoma as members.

That’s what the Big 12 offers, a little more juice. It’s a collective inclusivity and brotherhood, traits that need mending in these days of college football selfishness.

And in Stillwater, Manhattan, Lawrence, Lubbock, Fort Worth, Ames, Waco and Morgantown, you have to believe all the woe and anger over Oklahoma and Texas abandonment is mixed with some relief that those two boardroom bullies are gone, taking their macho control and threats with them.

Folks in the Big 12 will find it strange at first, but they’ll warm up to Orlando and they’ll come to appreciate Cincinnati, Houston and Provo.

And if the Cougars become a member of the Big 12, they’d be part of a growing college football cabal that’s fracturing right before our eyes from its master, the NCAA, whose tight reins are fraying by the day.

Expansion days are here again?

The whole thing reminds me of lyrics by Bernie Taupin for an Elton John song “Original Sin.”

Oh, it’s carnival night

And they’re stringing the lights around you.

Hanging paper angels

Painting little devils on the roof.

Oh the furnace wind

Is a flickering of wings about your face.

In a cloud of incense

Yea, it smells like Heaven in this place.