MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is going to have to make some difficult restructuring decisions following the conference’s exclusion for the PAC-12-ACC-Big Ten alliance. After the recent, triumphant exodus of both Texas and Oklahoma in favor of the SEC, the 10-team Big 12 is down to eight starting in 2025, but it might not be for long.
The potential additions to the Big 12 Conference are the likes of Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, and, most likely, BYU. Talks of adding Brigham Young University to the PAC-12 were squashed on Thursday, when the conference announced that expanding its membership was not one worth pursuing.
So where does BYU fit?
BYU COULD BE THE LYNCHPIN FOR BIG 12 RELEVANCY
It may be the key to boosting the Big 12 back into Power-5 royalty. The Athletic’s Max Olsen alluded to its inclusion as a lynchpin for the Big 12’s future success, especially when compared to sports media mega-conferences like the PAC-12 and SEC, which regularly shell out millions of dollars for media rights per year. Texas’ Longhorn Network, which stuck out amongst the Big 12 members, fits perfectly into that content creation environment.
“One sentiment among multiple sources is that the Big 12’s best approach to expansion, if it does stay together, is focusing on building the strongest football conference it possibly can,” Olson reported. “BYU, Cincinnati, UCF, and Boise State would be logical targets if that’s the plan, and several more schools merit consideration.”
— The Athletic CFB (@TheAthleticCFB) August 27, 2021
Adding those four universities specifically would boost the Big 12 back to a logistically satisfying 12 members, but it wouldn’t come without internal restructuring. The travel logistics of WVU playing BYU and Boise State are lofty, and although West Virginia fans are used to the time zone difference required to watch every single other Big 12 member, neither of those Mountain time zone teams makes geographical sense. Breaking the conference up into East and West divisions would make sense, especially in the event that UCF was added to the eastern presence.
BYU could be the perfect kick-starter for the new Big 12 scene, with a built-in, passionate fanbase. Even if BYU came to Big 12 football, the rest of its sports are firmly planted in the West Coast Conference, so travel expenses for the Olympic and non-revenue-building sports won’t be an issue.
VIEWERSHIP AND MEDIA RIGHTS
In terms of fanbase, BYU is a perfect addition to the Big 12, bringing in an average of 59,457 fans per game to LaVell Edwards Stadium in 2019. Other than Texas and Oklahoma, which brought 100,000 and 80,000 fans per game, respectively, to home games, the other eight haven’t even scratched the 60,000 mark. The Cougars ranked 46th in the United States for football viewership per game, and that’s as an independent. Hitching its wagon to Big 12 media rankings, which, sans Texas and Oklahoma games, brought in just less than one million viewers per game during the past five years, would singlehandedly help the Big 12 make a dent in the loss of the Longhorns and Sooners. When the current Big 12 media rights with Disney and Fox end in 2025, that million views-point is only slightly higher than the American Athletic Conference.
In 2016, when murmurs of a legitimate Big 12 expansion began, BYU was already the center of attention. The school applied to join the conference and was rejected, along with Boise State, Colorado State, SMU, Houston, UCF, USF, Cincinnati, and Memphis. Now, in a time when no conference alignment is certain, BYU could be poised for success in this attempt.