BYU Big 12: Why the Cougars Should Agree to Join the Big 12 NOW!

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BYU Big 12: Why the Cougars Should Agree to Join the Big 12 NOW!
George Frey/Getty Images
For many BYU fans, membership in a BCS level conference is at least 2 decades overdue.

Instability aside, the dysfunctional family that is known as the Big 12 Conference is clearly the best fit for Brigham Young University athletics.

Anyone with any knowledge of conference alignment and what will realistically work knows BYU has been on the league's radar as a replacement or expansion school virtually since the league's inception back in the mid 1990s.

As of this writing, the SEC directors have now officially accepted the application of Texas A&M to become that league's thirteenth member. 

With those legal issues now in the rearview mirror for the Aggies, they will officially start SEC competition during the 2012-2013 academic year. The only Big 12 business left is negotiating the exit fee, expected to be somewhere between $10-20 million and change.

With Chuck Neinas assuming the role of interim commissioner (officially starting October 3rd), rebuilding the fractured league becomes the first order of business.

Without question, an expansion plan for replacement schools is expected to take center stage as Neinas arranges his agenda from his consulting offices in Boulder, Colorado (ironically home to a former Big 12 institution) to league offices in Irving, Texas.

Neinas only expects to hold the position for a short term to rebuild the league and establish a better rapport between the directors—a job similar to what Gerry Grinstein found himself doing for Delta Air Lines from 2004-2007.

Can Neinas do what Dan Beebe couldn’t?  Beebe merely proved himself as a good manipulator during times of crises, but a league like the Big 12 can’t live year to year from one missile crisis to the next.

Should BYU accept an invitation to the Big 12 if invited right now?

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As the Big 12 consolidates commitments from its member institutions over the coming days, much speculation will center on how it will seek to attain new partner institutions.

While some will continue to speculate about the future demise of the league, it is actually in a better position to survive and thrive in the years ahead.

BYU athletics is at a similar crossroads.  More and more fans of Cougar Nation are climbing aboard the notion that BYU can and must seek membership in a BCS affiliated conference rather than attempting to continue as an independent.

Without question this second round of realignment and the potential trend towards super conferences illustrate how potentially vulnerable BYU truly is.

The first year of league independence shows how difficult football scheduling really is with more and more BCS leagues instituting 9-game schedules and prohibitive policies against OOC scheduling this past September.

The bottom line with respect to continuing as an independent is that BYU can NEVER get the respect or notoriety that Notre Dame has even over the period of a decade or longer.

In terms of scheduling, BYU for the most part will be limited to C-USA, MWC, WAC or worse yet FCS-level schools for its schedule past the end of September as an independent.

Looking at the landscape of college football in the U.S., that simply isn’t going to allow BYU to gain the exposure or notoriety they desire.  Still further, it’s doubtful they could fulfill the exposure mandate that a consensus of senior leaders within the hierarchy of the LDS Church feel that having such a program at a church school should constitute with or without the support of ESPN.

George Frey/Getty Images
BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson and Athletic Director Tom Holmoe

With realignment clearly at a crossroads, and opportunities like this not coming very often, it now becomes paramount that BYU make the right choice and get on board with a BCS league. 

It is highly doubtful BYU could get on board with a later expanding league consisting of college football superpowers if it declines now an invitation to join even a league as perceptively unstable as the Big 12.

The end result will be questions as to how seriously do BYU administrators and LDS Church senior hierarchy members want their flagship school’s athletic ambitions to be perceived?

While some might question as to how it would make BYU look with its new-found WCC partners, despite the fact commissioner Jamie Zaninovich has made it clear that he realizes the school’s bread and butter is its football program.

Zaninovich, as much or more than anyone, realized when he agreed to take on BYU and recommended it to his member institutions that BYU would likely be a short-term partner in his organization.

As I and others have noted in previous articles, this is all happening much sooner than what Tom Holmoe or President Cecil O. Samuelson had originally expected.

Reports late last week seemed to indicate BYU was less interested in the Big 12 after its latest stability crises in the wake of the departure of Texas A&M and Oklahoma's decision to explore other conference options.

More than anything, this most recent perceived trepidation on the part of BYU might not be on the stability of the Big 12, but rather how some in the LDS Church’s senior hierarchy view this move.

Keep in mind that, as much or more than anything, LDS Church headquarters dictates where BYU will go more than the administration or athletic director’s office.

Still further there is concern about how BYU impacts other nearby schools both academically and athletically when this group makes a major decision with respects to BYU.

This, as much as anything, is why some resistance to a potential Big 12 invitation is being felt throughout the press and media with respects to BYU.

While personnel within the athletic department over the past two-and-a half decades have long envisioned a conference upgrade for BYU, this has also been a major source of friction between the department and their LDS Church overseers.

Between Glen Tucket’s retirement in September 1993 and Tom Holmoe’s appointment in March 2005, two athletic directors have come and gone at BYU in part over this issue.

BYU fans in all this need to understand the difficult political tightrope that both President Cecil O. Samuelson and Athletic Director Tom Holmoe must walk in this entire process.

Early in the month when contacted by Big 12 officials, the BYU Board of Trustees did give President Samuelson authority to negotiate the terms of a BYU application to the league, but reserved the right for final approval or rejection.

There is little doubt that if invited they would be more than willing to take an application forward with a strong recommendation of approval given the landscape and realities I described above.

Despite its independence in football, the BYU administration isn’t authorized to formally seek application to a conference that is seeking new membership.  Such a process requires Board of Trustees (read LDS Church senior hierarchy) approval prior to submitting such an application.

With what is likely coming down, LDS Church senior leaders could be confronted with making what will be a monumental decision with respect to the future of intercollegiate athletics at its flagship institution of higher learning.

Hopefully LDS Church leaders will understand that they can get the best of both worlds having a highly popular state-operated university like Utah in the Pac-12 and its own in BYU as part of the Big 12.

But like many BYU fans, I won’t hesitate to leave my opinion for whatever it’s worth on these pages that if Chuck Neinas, DeLoss Dodds (Texas AD) and Brady Deaton (Missouri Chancellor, Big 12 Executive Committee Chairman) fire off an invitation, it would be in the best interests of BYU to accept it.

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