SALT LAKE CITY — Given the football program will remain independent for the foreseeable future, athletic director Tom Holmoe continues to go about scheduling attractive games far into the future.
Stanford is the latest to commit to playing BYU, doubling a four-game series that extends out to 2035. The series is another example of BYU’s association with the Pac-12, which includes competing against almost all of the conference’s programs in the immediate future and beyond.
It’s interesting to note the Pac-12 won’t invite BYU to join the conference but has no problem reaping of the benefits of playing its football team. But both sides, for their own respective reasons, are smart to take advantage of the growing relationship.
Shortly after the conference expanded by inviting Utah and Colorado, commissioner Larry Scott stated all nonconference games would be played early each season except for games against Notre Dame, which has longstanding annual contracts with USC and Stanford. But considering Notre Dame plays either Stanford or USC every late November, the conference needs another team to balance out the schedule to avoid a bye for a Pac-12 team.
Enter BYU, which as an independent is always hunting for late-season games. The Cougars also are willing to play Pac-12 programs during the first month of the season.
“We work with the Pac-12,” Holmoe said during his annual roundtable media session. “The Pac-12 has been, I’m not going to say a partner, but we have a very good relationship with them where they realize because we’re both in the same region that those are pretty attractive games for Pac-12 nonconference games.”
With a strong regional fan base, BYU almost always pads attendance figures in games played at Pac-12 venues. There’s a reason why the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, USC and Washington and others have been or are on the schedule.
And then there’s the ongoing series with Utah, which is scheduled to play BYU through 2028. Apparently not wanting to over-schedule, Utah won’t play its rival in 2022 and 2023.
“We could do it without the Pac-12, but why would you not want to play the Pac-12 teams?” Holmoe said. “They’re really great teams. That’s where our fans are. Those Pac-12 schools and departments know when we play there, they’re going to have a lot of fans there.”
The marriage of convenience allows BYU to generate excitement with its fan base. Last season, after BYU beat USC in overtime at LaVell Edwards Stadium, fans poured onto the field while “We Are the Champions” blared over the scoreboard loudspeakers.
To sustain any sort of fan interest as the season goes along, BYU has no choice but schedule quality Power Five opponents. Anything less pushes the program, which can’t compete for a conference championship, further into irrelevance if it loses multiple games earlier in the season.
“I took some heat with a flippant comment one time saying I can schedule 10 wins. That probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to say,” Holmoe said.
“I don’t go after teams that I know we can beat and load up the schedule, because then the attendance would drop," he added. "Even if we won 10 or 11 games, I think people might be yawning.”
Spot on, boss. Any flack Holmoe took for his supposed flippant comment was unjustified.
The 2020 schedule includes six Power Five opponents along with Utah State, Boise State, Houston and San Diego State. Potentially, it is BYU’s toughest slate since going independent nine years ago.
“I like it,” Holmoe said. “There’s days when (coach) Kalani (Sitake) likes it and there’s days when he doesn’t like it, depending on how practice went.”
High-risk, high reward has its benefits. And, if the football team isn’t good enough, its drawbacks.
“This is what BYU football needs,” Holmoe said. “That’s what I’m trying to make happen, is that we stay relevant in the world of college football. Our fans have expectations.”