Greg Wrubell has seen — and talked about — a cornucopia of players, coaches and games, as well as big changes involving BYU sports, over the past few decades. 

It’s been more than 30 years since Wrubell joined the broadcast crew as a sideline reporter on BYU football broadcasts back in the early 1990s, when the Cougars were members of the Western Athletic Conference.

He’s been around for BYU’s move to the Mountain West Conference and then the jump to independence in football and to the West Coast Conference for basketball. 

Having served as The Voice of the Cougars since 1997 in basketball and 2000 in football, Wrubell will soon be calling play-by-play for BYU as it embarks on a new era as a member of the Big 12 Conference this fall.

The Cougars officially join the league on July 1, along with Houston, Cincinnati and UCF

What is Wrubell’s perspective on BYU’s long and arduous journey from the WAC to the Big 12? 

“It feels like a well-earned reward. BYU really earned this invitation and took the hard road to get there. Schools like Utah and TCU, former conference colleagues of BYU, they went from G5 to P5 and made the jump at a time when BYU took a different path,” he said.

“Those 12 years of independence were a grind. I thought BYU navigated those 12 years as well as anybody could have hoped the school to do thanks to some great partnerships and some great performances athletically. They put themselves in a position to be a natural choice for a Power 5 conference when the Big 12 chose to expand.”

New venues and new travel plans

What Wrubell is looking forward to most with this change is opportunities for new experiences and new relationships.

In football, BYU will be a member of a conference for the first time since 2010. 

“When you cover a team that’s in a league, you’re used to the places you go, the venues you visit. The hotels and restaurants become kind of familiar to you. Then every other year, or every year, depending on the sport, you know you’ll be revisiting those places and re-encountering those people,” he said.

“There’s something about being in a league that is really enjoyable when it comes to routine and relationship. I think the Big 12’s fraternity of broadcasters will be a fun one to join. Some of those broadcasters I already know; some I’ll get to know. That’s also a part of it, too — having broadcast colleagues become teammates of a sort when you’re in the same conference. I’m really looking forward to that.”

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Last year, Wrubell did a breakdown of all of the airports and the hotels that he’d be looking at as options for traveling to the different conference cities, like Ames, Iowa (Iowa State); Lawrence, Kansas (Kansas); Stillwater, Oklahoma (Oklahoma State); Lubbock, Texas (Texas Tech); Morgantown (West Virginia); Waco, Texas (Baylor); and Manhattan, Kansas (Kansas State). 

Of course, he’s already booked all of his travel for the upcoming football season. 

“What you find out is, that on game days in a lot of these cities, some of them are smaller cities, true college towns, the hotel prices are exorbitant because it’s a college football Saturday,” he said.

“I find myself staying out of town in a few places, just for that reason, to save a few bucks. That’s been a real eye-opener, seeing what those towns’ hotel options look like on a college football game day. Which airports, which hotels will I be utilizing in the years to come? That was a list I compiled a while ago.”

Most of the venues in the Big 12 BYU hasn’t visited or has rarely visited.

For a college basketball broadcaster, doing a game at Kansas’ famed Phog Allen Fieldhouse is “something pretty special,” Wrubell said. “That’s another thing that I’m looking forward to doing.

“That was a cool thing about independence — every year you get new experiences. The Big 12 brings a whole series of new experiences into the equation. Doing basketball games at Kansas will be a bucket list item.”

Besides Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Wrubell can’t wait to visit Baylor’s new basketball arena, which is smaller than its previous home, “but it’s a really cool design that will bring a really cool atmosphere to basketball games,” he said.

In football, Wrubell has his eye on the Nov. 25 regular-season finale at Oklahoma State, played at “a stadium decked out in orange with a portion of BYU blue. Getting to Stillwater to call a game is going to be pretty exciting.”

On Oct. 14, the Cougars visit TCU.

“BYU’s played games at TCU before so that won’t be new but it will be something that BYU hasn’t experienced relative to where TCU is now as a program, having just played in the national championship game,” Wrubell said. 

While BYU has played a few games in Austin against Texas — the most recent was the Cougars’ 41-7 thumping of the Longhorns in 2014 — it returns to Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on Oct. 28. 

“BYU gets one more trip to Austin,” Wrubell said. “BYU’s done that in the past multiple times, but playing games at Texas are always special.”

This season, the Cougars will play in Morgantown for the first time to take on West Virginia on Nov. 4, and on Sept. 23, BYU will make history when it travels to Lawrence to meet the Kansas Jayhawks.

It will mark the Cougars’ first football game as a Big 12 team playing a Big 12 opponent. 

“That game, for that reason, will be pretty special,” Wrubell said. 

New rivalries

Rivalries can’t be contrived; they have to evolve organically through history and competition. The Pac-12 tried to force a rivalry between Utah and Colorado, which hasn’t materialized. 

While it’s uncertain what new rivalries might spring up for BYU in the Big 12, Wrubell said he can see some budding ones. 

“Baylor is a pretty good start. Two private, religiously based institutions that have already played recently,” Wrubell said. “You’ve got to go back to TCU. They’ve already had a rivalry (with BYU). They’ve already played a number of games as conference colleagues. Those two immediately jump to the forefront.

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“I think you’ll see a natural rivalry amongst the four newcomers. Which of those four news teams will establish itself in contention, most consistently, is a good question to answer, too. Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and BYU might create a sub-rivalry of which one will be the best the soonest. That will be fun to watch as well.”

Over the past year, Wrubell has been learning as much as he can about all of the Big 12 programs. 

“I’ve watched a lot more Big 12 sports in the last year for that reason. I want to get familiar with all of the venue names and the coaches and records and mascots and traditions — all the things that we’re going to be getting introduced to here in the Big 12,” he said.

“I’ve done a lot more work with that. We were still in the WCC and independent so I didn’t leave my attention from those sports, but on the side, I was checking out life in the Big 12 because I knew it was coming. I’m grateful for all that knowledge to, finally, hopefully, begin to pay off here.”

How will BYU fit into the Big 12 culturally and geographically? 

Wrubell said the Cougars are a great match with the other programs within the Big 12 footprint. 

“I think it’s a great cultural fit, I really do. You’ve already got a couple of private institutions, one kind of similarly religiously based institution at Baylor, and there have already been some good connections made between BYU and Baylor,” he said.

“These are places from which BYU can still draw a good number of fans, even though they’re new destinations for BYU generally speaking. I feel a lot of commonality and collegiality in the kinds of institutions that BYU is joining. I think culturally, it’s a perfect fit. Geographically, being in the Mountain Time Zone, BYU is going to be a bit of a geographic outlier, and that’s OK.”

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has stated that his intention for the league is to eventually be a four time-zone league. Right now, it’s a three time-zone league. 

Meanwhile, geography is mattering less and less in terms of conference realignment. USC and UCLA, for example, are leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024

“I think geography and regionality and rivalries are really important, But being confined to a particular time zone or state boundaries is no longer an overriding consideration in college athletics,” Wrubell said.

“BYU may be a bit far afield geographically but that’s the way of the world. It’s not just the Big 12 that finds itself logging a lot of miles.”

‘They came from your backyard’

For other programs in the Big 12, the biggest surprise pertaining to BYU will be “just how well BYU brings fans into Big 12 venues,” Wrubell said. “Without a doubt, that will be an eye-opener for a lot of people. The Big 12 is used to opposing fans traveling. BYU fans don’t necessarily need to travel to end up in these venues. They’re already within the vicinity of those venues.

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“BYU will be drawing fans from areas that are close to these opponents. These opponents will wonder, ‘Where did they come from?’ They came from your backyard, will be the answer. That will be the biggest surprise for Big 12 teams and fan bases — how well BYU puts fans in these opposing buildings.”

How will BYU athletics fare in the Big 12?

To predict the Cougars’ overall performance in the Big 12, Wrubell said it’s helpful to look at what’s happened in the past. 

BYU won the WCC Commissioner’s Cup for 10 consecutive years, ending with its final season in the WCC in 2023.

The award is emblematic of athletic superiority in the league in men’s and women’s sports combined.  

“It’s a good comparison to bring up the last 12 years in the West Coast Conference,” Wrubell said. “BYU won the last 10 Commissioner’s Cups in the WCC because BYU was winning a lot of conference championships. I think a good mindset for Cougar Nation to have going into the Big 12 is, with the level of play going up a notch, BYU may be winning fewer conference championships, but maybe ideally, competing to play in more NCAA postseason situations. 

“In the WCC, you either have to win or finish second in most sports to get into the NCAA tournament. In the Big 12, you don’t necessarily have to be the conference champ. You can go deep into standings and still find yourself in the NCAA tournament because of how good the league is. Ideally, BYU is competing for Big 12 championships. Clearly, that’s the objective. They may end up in as many, if not more, NCAA tournament situations without having to win a championship to get there.” 

BYU is equipped to compete for conference championships in a few sports in its first year in the Big 12, Wrubell said. 

“Women’s soccer could go in right away and win a Big 12 title in year one. Cross country could be competing for titles immediately. Women’s volleyball, I think, too.

“These are perennial NCAA tournament teams. These are teams that are expected to win their leagues and play in the postseason. They can immediately go into the Big 12 and expect to contend.”

As for sports that the Cougars could struggle in for a while? 

“It’s such a deep basketball league and such a deep baseball league as well. Those sports will need to do some heavy lifting to get to where they want to be,” Wrubell said.

“It’s going to be a challenge to which (men’s’ basketball coach) Mark Pope and (baseball coach) Trent Pratt look forward to getting after. We’ll see how soon it is that those sports are able to contend.”

‘A really stable spot’

Through the years, Wrubell has seen the many changes affecting BYU sports, like decamping to the Mountain West and later to independence/the WCC. 

The Cougars were heavily involved in the creation of the Mountain West in 1999 and they set out on their own in 2011 by going independent after Utah joined the Pac-12

In 2016, the Big 12 announced it was exploring expansion, examining 11 programs, including BYU. But in the end, the Big 12 decided not to expand and the Cougars remained independent.

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Then, during the summer of 2021, Texas and Oklahoma announced they were bolting for the Southeastern Conference, opening the door for the Big 12 to add four teams, including BYU. 

Amid all of that, how confident was Wrubell that the Cougars would find themselves sitting at the Power 5 table someday? 

“BYU wasn’t necessarily going to be a fit in every Power 5 situation. The SEC is fairly regional. The ACC has a geographic component. I’ve come to conclude that the Pac-12 wasn’t really interested in BYU because if they were, they would have the chance to pursue BYU and it never really happened. And so it really came down to the Big 12,” he said. “There was no way to predict what Texas and Oklahoma would do to necessitate this move. But I do know that BYU got close with the Big 12 back in 2016. I guess there was always that thought that at least the Big 12 knows about BYU and its traction and its assets and its appeal. So I kind of always felt that if something was going to happen, it would likely happen in this league and that’s the way it turned out. 

“But nobody could have predicted the timing or why it would happen with Texas and OU leaving. The timing couldn’t have been better. BYU finds itself in a really stable spot. Right now, P5 stability after the SEC and Big Ten is hard to come by. I think the Big 12 has found stability and puts itself in a really good position to be that next-best Power 5 conference after the SEC and the Big Ten. That’s a great spot for BYU to be in.”

Greg Wrubell calls the action from the press box at LaVell Edwards Stadium. | Mark A. Philbrick, BYU Photo
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