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SALT LAKE CITY — The Big 12 staged a beauty contest, with all the usual competition, but the problem is the conference never picked a winner.
Actually, there were 11 losers. And it’s not much of a stretch to bump up the number of losers to 21, accounting for the 10 members of the Big 12.
For our purposes, BYU was the biggest loser when the Big 12 announced this week that it would be holding at 10 teams rather than expand. Athletic director Tom Holmoe and his department had spent the last few months getting all gussied up in hopes of winning over the Big 12, which in July indicated plans to consider expanding by two or four teams.
Many connected with the university believe BYU would have been invited if the Big 12 had expanded. There was some thought that the conference wanted BYU but couldn’t settle on a 12th program. Others believe the Big 12 wanted no part of BYU given its perceived anti-LGBT policies.
In the end, the Big 12 wasted the time and energy of the reported 11 universities that desperately wanted an invitation to join the exclusive club as part of a Power 5 conference. The Big 12 put these schools through a dog-and-pony show only to say never mind.
Oklahoma President David Boren, chairman of the panel that considered expansion, insisted during a press conference the presentations by the 11 schools were not wasted time and effort. There is some truth to that statement, if the schools learned something through self-discovery, but it was not because of the Big 12.
Throughout the country, national media ripped the conference for talking expansion and then doing nothing. Stewart Mandel, a Fox Sports writer, called for the conference officials to apologize to leaders from BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and the other schools it led on to believing each of them had a chance to win the P5 financial windfall.
“It was a little more of a sweepstakes than we thought it would be at the beginning,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
Enough of the Big 12 nonsense. The relevant issue now is what’s next for BYU.
With television contracts for Power 5 conferences not expiring until 2025, BYU appears destined to remain an independent in football and have most of the other sports remain in the West Coast Conference. Not ideal, but all is not lost.
In time, at least the football program needs to belong to a Power 5 conference or whatever it morphs into in the future. As Holmoe and former coach Bronco Mendenhall stated on numerous occasions, the program cannot remain as an independent over the long-term.
For financial reasons, BYU needs to get the annual cash grab that Power 5 schools enjoy. The football team also has to have access to better bowl agreements and a potential shot at the national playoffs.
Holmoe has done an outstanding job creating increasingly competitive schedules since going independent in 2011. But the problem is each schedule is front-loaded, meaning each November lacks sizzle.
Also, unlike most good programs, BYU never gets to ease into the season by playing lower-division competition. As a result, the Cougars have recorded at least two losses before October in all but one of the six seasons as an independent. In 2014, the Cougars started 4-0 but then lost quarterback Taysom Hill and the next four games.
For the time being, with the enthusiasm the coaching staff has generated, the program can continue to compete and grow as an independent. At the culmination of last year’s recruiting season, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said conference affiliation, or lack thereof, never came up with prospective players or their parents.
Eventually, some configuration of a Power 5 conference will want BYU. The entire athletic program has too much to be excluded forever.
“Our national fan base and broadcast ratings, along with the many historical and recent successes of our teams, attest we certainly belong,” BYU said in a released statement. “We believe BYU can significantly contribute to the athletic and academic excellence of a P5 conference.”