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Opinion: The case for BYU in the Big 12

BYU football, and BYU athletics as a whole, lead with excellence. Full stop.

The BYU Spirit Squad waves their team flags before a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. Rumor has it the Big 12 could extend an offer to BYU to join the conference.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

On ESPN in the mid 1980s, I remember watching an exciting football team that threw the football all over the field. Everyone else was running the ball back then. Not this team. They were playing football of the future with blue uniforms and a Y on the side of their helmets. The Brigham Young University of my youth had a head coach named LaVell Edwards. He always looked grumpy. And his teams consistently won in epic, surprising ways. It was like ESPN and BYU were made for each other.

Late on Saturday nights, I would stay up way too late to watch BYU because I knew it was going to be electrifying. Quarterback Robbie Bosco led BYU to a national championship in 1984, beating Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. Little did I know that one day, I would meet Robbie and we would become friends. Little did I know that one day I would wear the same blue and white colors playing under the same Saturday night lights.

As college football undergoes a rapid change — with Texas and Oklahoma bolting for the mighty SEC — the rumor is that the Big 12 Conference is pursuing BYU to become a member. It’s time to seal the deal.

For starters, BYU football, and BYU athletics as a whole, lead with excellence. Full stop. In 2020, BYU finished 17th out of 293 Division I universities in The Directors’ Cup, which “quantifies the overall success of a school’s athletic department by awarding points based on its finish in each of the NCAA sports.” BYU isn’t just a football and basketball school; it brings excellence across programs and teams.

And BYU will always bring a competitive spirit, no matter the circumstances. My former defensive back coach (now BYU athletic director) Tom Holmoe, and head coach Kalani Sitake gave the football team every opportunity to play amid the COVID-19 fog of confusion last year. BYU’s leadership excelled with clarity and conviction, and the players had one of the greatest seasons in BYU football history, finishing 11-1 and #11 in the Associated Press final poll.

Second, BYU football would bring an innovative, fun and thrilling brand to the Big 12, along with a passionate, large fan base that reliably watches games and travels well.

Not only would the Big 12 gain a new member that would make the conference better athletically, it would also improve the conference’s academic portfolio. If you look at the schools in the conference, BYU would stand alongside Baylor and Texas Christian University as one of three schools ranking among the top 100 Best National Universities, according to the U.S. News and World Report.

Third, BYU coming to the Big 12 would add to the conference’s religious diversity. I am a Protestant Christian — more specifically, a non-denominational follower of Jesus. My faith is anchored in Jesus, the Bible and the ancient creeds of Christianity that reach back thousands of years. I also have a doctorate of ministry in New Testament context. I feel fully secure in my faith, which allows me to appreciate the faith of others.

Along with Baylor, whose mission is “to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community,” BYU would bring a similar religious commitment and diversity to the Big 12.

I have found that learning about a religion or worldview with which I may not agree helps me to understand other perspectives. Ignorance is the soil that sprouts weeds of fear. The university experience is about learning and respecting the beliefs with others. I do not have to have to agree with you to love you. Being made in the image of God is enough.

BYU would make the Big 12 Conference better, and the Big 12 should extend the offer.

Derwin Gray played football for Brigham Young University and the NFL. He is the founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina.