PROVO — Mark your calendars for Friday, BYU fans. It could be the biggest day in the school's athletic history.
The Big 12 is expected to vote Friday via conference call to accept the applications of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — a vote that is largely considered a formality among the team's current 10 teams, according to Yahoo Sports reporter Pete Thamel.
The Action Network's Brett McMurphy added that a news conference is scheduled for Friday. The meeting is simply a formality to "rubber stamp" the new additions, adds CBS Sports' Dennis Dodds, after the new schools began filing formal applications to the league Wednesday.
The three schools from the American Athletic Conference will be required to give 27 months' notice and pay $10 million in exit fees prior to departing the conference. As an FBS independent, BYU has no such requirement for football — but is expected to give notice to the West Coast Conference to depart in other sports.
Of course, nothing is official until banners hang from LaVell Edwards Stadium, or at least the ink is dry on a press release. But the long-awaited inclusion of BYU into a Power Five conference appears as imminent as it's ever been, a journey that started a decade ago when the Cougars went independent in football, caromed through the rapids of a rocky relationship with the Big 12 five years ago, and finally hit warp speed when a Texas A&M reporter broke the news that Texas and Oklahoma were preparing to join the Southeastern Conference when the schools' grant-of-rights expire in 2025.
BYU, UCF, Cincinnati & Houston have all officially applied for Big 12 membership, sources told @ActionNetworkHQ. The Big 12 presidents will vote Friday to accept - & will accept those schools - sources said. Yahoo 1st report. A news conference is scheduled Friday, source said— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) September 9, 2021
Multiple reporters, both local and national, have raced to confirm the news that has been easy to see coming. From The Athletic confirming reports first published in the Cincinnati Enquirer to The Action Network piggybacking off Yahoo Sports, the end result feels has been the same.
The move has not been without its detractors, from Utah fans on rivalry week to media who cover the Pac-12. But it's also had its proponents, including outspoken Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and a host of national voices who have risen up in favor of the Cougars' admission.
Unlike in 2016, a host of LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have not publicly shouted their collective opposition to BYU's admittance. Perhaps the voices are still there — they just aren't as outspoken.
This time, the university appears to have its fair share of advocates, as well.
"I was told that BYU had the best metrics," Thamel said. "I'm not saying they have the best football program … but the combination of around 6% of America (being) Mormon, they have a huge footprint, and they do have a much better history with national championships and going back a century. That stuff matters with TV resonance.
"BYU was No. 1 with a bullet. The other three had some separation between them, but they were kind of clustered there. And then my understanding was there was a pretty big gap after four to the next one."
The Pew Research Center estimates 1.6% of the U.S. population to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors BYU. Still, Thamel's point is clear: BYU is a big brand — and the biggest of the four new schools.
Other schools that were considered include Boise State, Memphis and South Florida, according to Thamel. But none were better than BYU.
"BYU was, from the people I talked to — once people got over reticence about being a 'difficult conference member,' they've got a lot going for them," said Thamel's co-host on the Yahoo college football podcast Pat Forde, who writes for Sports Illustrated. "They've got a big stadium, they put people in it, and they've got a big following. They got back on the beam last year going 11-1 … and they're out there, ready to be had."
Instead, the Big 12 will pursue expansion with warp speed in an attempt to ward off the jeers and sneers of a mob claiming the conference was on its deathbed.
Instead, in a world where the SEC begins its collision course with the Big Ten for the rights of the best football power in the country, the Cougars find themselves on a life raft floating among the remainder of the Power Five.
In the most recent Associated Press Top 25 poll, the SEC schools collects three of the top five spots in the poll, as well as three other rankings at Nos. 13, 20 and 25 — and another if including future conference mate Oklahoma, which dropped two spots following its Week 1 win over Tulane to No. 4.
Counting Cincinnati as one of the new members of the Big 12, the conference would have two teams ranked in the Top 10, including No. 9 Iowa State. That's more than the ACC, with its four total ranked teams, and Pac-12, with five, combined.
The Cougars will face one of them Saturday in No. 21 Utah (8:15 p.m. MT, ESPN).