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Playing nonconference football games vs. Utah, Utah State a priority for Big-12 bound BYU, AD Tom Holmoe says

BYU’s 16-year athletic director spoke to reporters Thursday about the state of Cougar sports and a variety of other topics as the school prepares for the Big 12

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Brigham Young University Athletic Director Tom Holmoe speaks during a press conference in Provo.

Brigham Young University Athletic Director Tom Holmoe speaks during a press conference in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

One of the biggest issues that BYU will face when it enters the Big 12 in 2023 is that the Cougars won’t be able to play all the football teams they are currently contracted to play.

Athletic director Tom Holmoe and head football coach Kalani Sitake have some big decisions to make in that regard.

They have already made one, however.

Holmoe said Thursday in a wide-ranging roundtable discussion with reporters who cover BYU sports that the priority will be to continue playing in-state schools Utah and Utah State. Of course, a lot depends on whether the Big 12 plays eight or nine conference games, a decision that has not been made.

“But I would say ‘yes’ for the in-state schools. I think that it is important that we have a really good tradition of playing the in-state schools.” — BYU AD Tom Holmoe on the importance of playing Utah and Utah State in nonconference football games as a Big 12 member

BYU could have either three or four nonconference games. Obviously, there’s a lot of trimming to do.

“But I would say ‘yes’ for the in-state schools,” Holmoe said. “I think that it is important that we have a really good tradition of playing the in-state schools.”

Holmoe said they are “scheduled out” to 2026 or 2027, meaning some teams have to go. Tuesday, Boise State athletic director Jeramiah Dickey said in an impromptu Q&A on Twitterthat the BYU-Boise State series will probably end after the game at Boise State this year.

“One more game with them, and then done … for now,” Dickey wrote.

Holmoe didn’t disagree with that assessment on Thursday.

“We are going to take teams out, not add teams,” Holmoe said, noting that the recently announced Nevada-at-BYU game to kick off the 2024 season was actually scheduled months ago.

Regarding future games with Utah and Utah State, Holmoe said they might not be able to play both in-state rivals every year, but that’s the wish.

“Will it be a consistent every-year rivalry, where we are playing a rivalry game every year?” Holmoe said. “I would say the answer would be no. You have seen that change in the past to where it is not every year.”

Holmoe said that BYU is facing what Utah faced in 2011-12 when it joined the Pac-12, except that Utah went from one conference (Mountain West) to another, while BYU is going from independent to a conference.

“When Utah determined it wanted to play (another team) and it meant we wouldn’t be able to play a game, I think our fans got a little angry with me that I wasn’t a little upset about it,” Holmoe said. “I knew that the time would come, that if we got into a Power Five conference, that we would be in the same situation. And we are.”

Asked what other teams BYU would like to keep on its limited nonconference schedule, Holmoe said that Sitake, “first and foremost,” would make those calls. Also, a lot depends on what the contracts say, Holmoe said.

“Can you literally get rid of the game?” Holmoe said, rhetorically. “And some of them, you can’t. And some of them you can, with a fee. And some of them you can, without a fee. Depending on the year and what the contract says, those are all factors.”

Asked if he prefers eight or nine conference games for the Big 12, Holmoe deferred again, saying he doesn’t want to get into speculation and conjecture before discussions with league officials and other athletic directors.

“That’s (probably) a question for Kalani (in the end, from BYU’s perspective),” he said. “He’s the coach of the football team. I really think it comes down to that.”

In all, Holmoe spent about 45 minutes and answered more than 30 questions. Here’s a closer look at some of the topics he addressed:

• On how well BYU athletics is doing this year, ranking No. 1 in Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup fall standings:

“It has been a really fun year, an exciting year for our student-athletes and our coaches and our teams. It has been full of some really great performances,” he said. “And here we are, on the crest of jumping into the Big 12, and with that will come a lot of changes.”

• On what happens to BYU’s athletic department budget when it joins the Big 12:

“Our budget will increase, for sure,” he said. “We will have to step up support-wise, structure-wise, like I just mentioned. And then the revenue streams will obviously be bigger. That’s not a surprise or a secret.”

• Holmoe said that no new athletic facilities are planned before the move takes place, but some buildings and services to student-athletes will get upgrades.

“I think right now where we are at with facilities is we are looking at a master plan, and where we could be five or 10 years from now,” he said. “That’s how far out you would have to go in order to build some things that would be right.”

• Another decision the Big 12 must make is how it divides teams into divisions. CBS Sports reported on Jan. 18 that the league is “engaged in plans” to split into two seven-team divisions when it is a 14-team league before Texas and Oklahoma bolt to the SEC.

Holmoe said that’s another question he doesn’t want to “jump in on right now” until future meetings.

“I have received suggestions and emails from people I know,” he said. “I have listened and studied and I kinda have feelings about it, … and I have talked to some of the other ADs. But right now it would just be pure speculation and I really wouldn’t want to do that.”

• Holmoe said Big 12 officials are “intrigued” by what BYU has in BYUtv, but he doesn’t believe the conference will utilize it as much as the WCC has. Most of the WCC’s basketball tournament games are televised by the BYU-owned station.

“I don’t think any other school in the country has it. And there will be a time in the near future where the leadership of the Big 12 will come to BYU and visit and one of the stops will be BYUtv,” Holmoe said. “We will introduce them to what we have, what the possibilities are. It will be something that could potentially be a resource.”

• Holmoe said he is a proponent of College Football Playoff expansion, but cautioned that he is not speaking for Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby or any other league official.

“I like (the idea),” Holmoe said. “I still think it should go beyond where it is right now.”

• Holmoe said there are no current plans to upgrade or improve LaVell Edwards Stadium before or when BYU joined the Big 12. He said that “supply vs. demand (for tickets) is about right” at the present time.

“We’ve been trying to improve the overall game day experience and improve the experience for the fans,” he said, noting recent upgrades in wireless facilities and pregame activities.

Holmoe said he would often joke with former BYU AD Glen Tuckett that years ago BYU had just one sponsor, KSL Radio.

“Now it looks like NASCAR,” Holmoe said of the stadium signage.

• Holmoe acknowledged that there is more “leniency” these days regarding the BYU honor code’s grooming standards. He said as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grows globally, school officials have realized that some grooming has cultural roots and needs to be accommodated.

• On Dec. 10, sportico.com reported that the NCAA was “probing” BYU and Miami for high-profile NIL deals involving football players for potential violations of the NCAA’s interim rules regarding marketing rights for college athletes.

Holmoe said he was “aware” of the report, but spoke as if he is not concerned about it.

“I don’t think that the word ‘investigation’ is right,” he said. “… The NCAA called us up and asked us a number of questions. And we gave them the answers. And we feel like right now at this point in time that we are in a good spot.”

Holmoe said BYU has been under investigation in the past for NCAA violations, “and (this one) doesn’t feel anything like those investigations. But we are more than happy to chat with anybody from the NCAA or other schools about what we are doing with the NIL because I think it is important to share those ideas and the principles.”

The 16-year AD said he has spoken with a lot of ADs and coaches about NIL scenarios, and almost everyone believes there needs to be more standardization.

“There are a lot of shenanigans going on right now,” he said. “Everybody knows it. So how it continues, I don’t know.”

• Holmoe was asked if Big 12 membership puts pressure on BYU to get the best Latter-day Saint student-athletes into the school and on its teams.

“My answer is yes,” he said, bluntly.

“I think our coaches and student-athletes will feel an elevated sense of, ‘let’s go,’” he said.