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Patrick Kinahan: BYU football will finally have a late-season purpose

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake is congratulated at a press conference announcing that BYU has accepted an invitation to the Big 12 Conference at BYU in Provo on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake is congratulated at a press conference announcing that BYU has accepted an invitation to the Big 12 Conference at BYU in Provo on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)



PROVO — Finally, after a decade of irrelevance, the BYU football program will have a purpose to the last month of the season.

Playing as an independent the last 10 years had positives for BYU, chief among them being more money from the ESPN television contract and significantly better exposure compared to the prior situation with the Mountain West. But the obvious negative was playing a series of pointless games each November.

Minus any conference implications, BYU's slate of games the final month almost always lacked any sizzle. Even with the occasional game against Utah or USC, the Cougars usually played out the string with the bowl destination long since predetermined.

Not anymore. Back to the future has arrived.

Thanks to Oklahoma and Texas deciding to bolt the Big 12 for the greener — think the color of money — pasture of the Southeastern Conference, BYU will commence play in the Big 12 for the 2023-24 academic year. Goodbye Idaho State; hello to the likes of Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor.

Isn't it about time?

"Congratulations Cougar nation, it's been a long time coming, and here we are," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe during Friday's press conference announcing the Big 12 move.

Without a doubt, BYU made the correct decision to leave the Mountain West Conference during the summer of 2010. With minimal television exposure and a putrid financial deal with the MWC, especially after losing Utah to the Pac-12 and TCU to the Big 12, it literally made no sense for BYU to stay put.

By virtue of its exclusive contract with ESPN, BYU was able to set out on the uncharted territory as an independent in football while stashing most of its other sports in the West Coast Conference. But the truth is, the foray was only temporary.

Former coach Bronco Mendenhall called it years ago, that staying as an independent was not sustainable over the long term. A decade was long enough.

"At this point in time, we feel we're in a really good spot," Holmoe said.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe gestures while stating, "I love the fact that we get to go into the Big 12 with all our teams" during a press conference announcing that BYU has accepted an invitation to the Big 12 Conference at BYU in Provo on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. BYU will play all sports provided by the Big 12 except for equestrian, rowing and wrestling. Men’s volleyball will continue to play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, as the Big 12 does not offer the sport.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe gestures while stating, "I love the fact that we get to go into the Big 12 with all our teams" during a press conference announcing that BYU has accepted an invitation to the Big 12 Conference at BYU in Provo on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. BYU will play all sports provided by the Big 12 except for equestrian, rowing and wrestling. Men’s volleyball will continue to play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, as the Big 12 does not offer the sport. (Photo: Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

For a multitude of reasons, the Big 12 affiliation comes as a major relief for the longtime athletic director. Maybe now he can get off the telephone and take a leisurely lunch.

Amounting to a few headaches, Holmoe was forced to spend much of his time over the last 10 years lining up 12 opponents to play BYU each season. As he proved last season, when the pandemic forced BYU to fill out the annual schedules, Holmoe did a masterful job at finding enough games to fill out an annual schedule.

But the calendars were the same virtually every year — load up on Power Five opponents in September, when those programs played the majority of their nonconference games. Pertaining to the first month, BYU's schedule as an independent always ranked among the nation's toughest.

As a consequence, the back half of BYU's schedules usually were devoid of big-name teams, particularly those willing to venture into LaVell Edwards Stadium. To put it mildly, the home schedules in November often were brutal and unappealing to, as Holmoe calls it, Cougar Nation.

Further complicating matters, the November contests lacked any interest beyond the games themselves. In other words, they had no conference implications that adds to the fun of following a conference race.

Going forward in two years, BYU fans can now fall in line with everybody else. Over the last decade, when college football followers were checking scores of their conference mates, BYU and its fans were always shut out.

Thankfully, it all changes in two years. When BYU is in the thick of a Big 12 race, Cougar Nation can follow the results of the other conference games.

In the end, everybody wins.

"I just could not be any more excited today as we embark on this new marriage," said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

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