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Berry Tramel  


BYU fans weigh in on Big 12 scheduling alliance

by Berry Tramel Published: June 20, 2014
Brigham Young quarterback Taysom Hill throws a pass in the first half of a game last November at Notre Dame.  (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Brigham Young quarterback Taysom Hill throws a pass in the first half of a game last November at Notre Dame. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

Where’s there’s smoke, sometimes there’s fire. Sometimes you’re just frying bacon.

When it comes to the Big 12 and Brigham Young, there’s more bacon grease than flames shooting. Until Bob Bowlsby or Joe Castiglione or Boone Pickens yells, “Call 9-1-1,” we’ll proceed with the bacon theory.

But it sure is fun to think about. For all the heartburn and consternation and weird vibes caused by conference realignment and its affects, it makes for great conversation.

And my conversions with BYU folks haven’t subsided. Three examples, just from today.

* BYU fan Brad Smith:

“I’m a big-time BYU fan and CougarClub member from Portland, Ore. I loved your recent article about a possible Big 12-BYU scheduling alliance and I listened to your interview with BYU Sports Nation. Thank you! A few questions and perspectives:

1. Is a formal scheduling alliance necessary? Can’t BYU and the various Big 12 schools simply schedule some games and get informal input and help from the Big 12 to fill in some of the scheduling holes and opportunities? In my opinion, a formal scheduling alliance would be fantastic! But something informal might be the low-hanging fruit that can actually get done. Baby steps.

2. In your June 13 post, a five-game alliance was mentioned. Would every Big 12 team really be willing to play BYU every other year? If so, awesome! But perhaps a three- or four-game scenario would be easier to get done; Big 12 teams would only play BYU every three years or so.

3. If a five-game game alliance did make sense, how about the following format? Two games in Big 12 stadiums, two games in Provo and a fifth game at a neutral site in Arlington, Houston, San Antonio or Kansas City the first weekend of December? Or you could include the neutral-site game in an annual three-game deal.

4. Do you think the Big 12 would be interested to join forces with BYU to add the Las Vegas Bowl to the lineup? The Las Vegas Bowl loves BYU. BYU was invited five straight years before BYU left the Mountain West. The relationship could allow the Las Vegas Bowl to pick either a Big 12 qualifier or BYU against the Pac-12. Would this hold any interest in Big 12 land?

5. BYU has recently played Baylor, Texas and Iowa State in men’s basketball. All have been competitive games. Would there be any chance to include four or five men’s basketball games in any sort of football scheduling alliance? Again, you could employ a two home, two away, neutral format.

Thanks for your time and keep the ideas and articles coming!

No. Thank your for the ideas coming. Here are my responses:

1. I think a scheduling alliance if necessary, if it’s going to happen. Frankly, you can’t get the schools even to agree to beef up their schedules in general, but in particularly against a specific opponent. There’s just not a lot of cooperation there. Something that is contracted would be necessary, I believe.

2. Five games a year very well could be too many. That’s a home-and-home two out of every four years. Schools like OU, which already have Tennessee, Ohio State, UCLA and Nebraska scheduled, might be a tough sell. But you never know. The Sooners don’t run scared.

3. Personally, I prefer more games on campus and fewer games neutral sites. But if that’s the only way to get an OSU-Mississippi State or OSU-Florida State or TCU-Oregon or TCU-LSU, then sign me up.

4. I love the idea of the Las Vegas Bowl. The Big 12 is gone from the California bowl lineup and is down to one Arizona bowl. It’s been three California/Arizona bowls in recent years. The Vegas Bowl is aligned with the Pac-12 and the Mountain West conferences for now.

5. Uh, whatever. Don’t ruin my day by talking about basketball scheduling. If OU or OSU played BYU, they’d do it in Vegas or in Puerto Rico or someplace far from Stillwater and Norman. So who cares?

* BYU David Moore sent along an interesting item from Dahl Erickson of the Star Valley Independent, an Afton, Wyo., newspaper, which you can read here. Some excerpts:

“Is an awkward reunion between BYU and the Mountain West inevitable? Almost four years ago, the three biggest names in the Mountain West Conference, Utah, TCU and BYU all went their separate ways … to capitalize on their own individual fame and fortune within a college football hierarchy that all but dared institutions to do just that.

Utah … joined the Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) and will receive an estimated $20 million this year in payouts. TCU has a similar path to the Big-12 (only 10 members). They are expected to bring in $26 million this next year.  To put that in perspective, the University of Wyoming’s entire athletic budget is about $29.6 million. The money is pouring in (for Utah and TCU), but both have been relegated to relative obscurity within a bigger pond thus far.

“Then there is BYU. The Cougars were not extended an invite to the west, nor were they asked to join the league to the east. So they decided to strike out on their own. Not a bad decision monetarily. The university is bringing in approximately $10 million with agreements with ESPN and their own station, BYUtv. This is armfuls of cash better than what the television deal that was in place when they left the league.

“However, in those four years, the MWC renegotiated some of their strict (and nonsensical) television contracts and squeezed some significant blood from the small school stone. Previous payments of $1 million have increased into the neighborhood of $3 million for the league’s top teams…

“BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall recently stated that he felt his Cougars and BYU would be  perfect fit for the Big 12 … Big 12 higher-ups responded that revenues have never been higher and that expansion is not even on the docket. In other words. It’s nice you think so Bronco, but no thanks.

“Which brings us back to the MWC. The bad television contract (improved but still bad) is almost up, which means negotiations are about to begin. I believe it’s time for the MWC and BYU to both swallow a little pride and join forces once again.

“For the Mo’ West, the Cougars bring an elevated television potential which would increase an overall payout for league schools. The league itself is in a position to offer the Y something they seemingly have zero chance at in the new NCAA alignment. A shot at a New Year’s Day bowl…”

“I think the wheels have already started turning. MWC commissioner Craig Thompson has come out saying that the league will also be ‘re-evaluating’ the scheduling of BYU moving forward. I think this is simply sabre-rattling to perhaps get the Cougar administration to consider a reunion. Maybe the teams can help each other out in a new NCAA where you are either wanted or unwanted. Perhaps an increased payout for schools combined with concessions to BYU getting to broadcast their own product. It’s probably time both entities realized they are stronger together than they are separate…”

Really provocative piece. I recommend you click and read it all.

I think it has some merit, outside of politics that I don’t know much about. I don’t know how much BYU would have to swallow its pride to return to the Mountain West. I don’t know how many concessions the Mountain West would have to make to lure back BYU.

But a strong Mountain West – BYU, Boise State still riding high, Fresno State strong, San Diego State getting better, Air Force finding its wings – would position the conference to be a cut above the so-called Group of Five, which is the conferences outside the power structure of college football. The Mountain West and the American Athletic Conference are a long way from the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC. But they also can work to set themselves apart from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference and the Sun Belt Conference.

I don’t know what the future holds for NCAA configuration. Does the Power Five break away and be its own entity? Does the Power Five set itself up for more autonomy with the same Division I-A schools? Does the Power Five seek something in the middle, whereby it gains more autonomy with less drafting from the lesser leagues but needs someone along for the ride, because who will you schedule?

Those are legitimate questions, and the stronger the Mountain West is, the more likely it could gain clout with the Power Five and the major bowls.

Washington's Damore'ea Stringfellow, left, tries to shake off the tackle attempt from BYU defensive back Michael Davis during the Fight Hunger Bowl last December in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Washington's Damore'ea Stringfellow, left, tries to shake off the tackle attempt from BYU defensive back Michael Davis during the Fight Hunger Bowl last December in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

* BYU fan Dean Rabb:

“Berry, I have enjoyed your thoughts as it relates to BYU and the Big 12. The question to the Big 12 is: ‘what do you have to lose vs. what are the potential gains?’

“With college football crowds declining to the lowest average in 35 years, do you think it’s a coincidence that several Pac-12 schools are re-scheduling BYU?  Those schools include: ASU, UA (three games), Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC (four-game series).  Expect Washington to re-schedule BYU again.  The Pac-12 knows BYU places bodies in the seats!

“As a businessman (banker), who has been involved in over 100 due diligences and approximately 60 acquisitions, I understand businesses need to take a breath, fully integrate the new entity and view the landscape before moving forward.  I also understand that sitting idle and not making prudent moves can not only be costly but can be deadly to a business.  What might seem to be a sure target in the future may not be there when you reach your target date.

“In other words, I have seen businesses, including banks, target a specific bank or business for future acquisition.  As the potential acquiring party reaches its designated time to make the acquisition, the other party is no longer available.

“As a convert to BYU football back in the late 70’s, my family and I travel to all of the games across the country and love it.  We can always count on the opposing school’s administration and fans commenting on how surprised they were as to the number of BYU fans in attendance.  The Mountain West, old WAC and Pac-12 understands BYU packs the football stadiums and arenas in Olympic sports.  In the MWC and old WAC, one constant ‘fight’ amongst the schools within the conference was to be able to schedule BYU as late as possible in their season.  As would be expected, BYU didn’t always want to travel to Laramie or Fort Collins in late November.  Knowing the cold weather and possible season records would limit the amount of local fans attending games in late November, the Wyomings, Colorado States, New Mexicos etc. wanted BYU for those late-season games.  They understood BYU was the only team that would fill the seats with BYU fans and their own fans, who dislike BYU.

“Pac-12 teams understand that home games with BYU will rank within the top three attended games for their individual season.  Obviously, for USC, the UCLA and Notre Dame games are their top two attended games.  With ASU, UA, Cal, Stanford, UCLA, Washington, and Washington State, it is likely BYU will be either their second or third most attended game.

“Some explain this as BYU travels well, which is true.  But they forget that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a worldwide church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is one of the largest churches (members) in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington.  Thereby, it is more of the local BYU fans filling the seats vs. traveling fans.   While the church’s membership has a much smaller percentage in those states east of Colorado, the Church is found in each state and region and those members attend games.

“This year BYU travels east to Middle Tennessee State, Texas, Central Florida and Connecticut. Take note how many BYU fans will be present at those games.  Notice when BYU plays Cal on Nov. 29, see if Cal experiences an increase in their average attendance.  BYU fans will acquire the allotted number of tickets and even try to purchase tickets through the host school’s ticket office (obviously, these sales will not be counted towards BYU’s attendance).  However, the total number in attendance will support BYU’s fan base and brand name.

“When BYU played Tulane a few years ago, there were more BYU fans in the Superdome than Tulane fans.  BYU fans had a respectable showing in the AT&T Stadium against both Oklahoma and TCU.  BYU has played in the South and Eastern bowls: Cotton, Liberty, Armed Forces, Tangerine, etc. The fan base supported the team and the bowls.  In the West, it is well documented that BYU made the Holiday Bowl what it is today through the attendance and the exciting brand of football played.  New bowls such as the Poinsettia, Vegas, Hunger and now the Miami Beach Bowl all want BYU as they know the importance of the brand name and filling seats.

“If the Big 12 wants exposure and added value, and TV networks want viewers and advertisers, look no further than playing BYU on a regular basis either in a scheduling agreement or a partner in the league.  The Big 12 will immediately gain access with a large fan base in California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, not to mention throughout the country and the world.  Outside of Notre Dame, there is not another school that could bring these markets to the Big 12 on Day One!  BYU has more fans in these states than does Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia, etc.

“I assume when the Big 12 schools from the north play in Texas or West Virginia or vice versa the opposing teams fan base is limited.  I can guarantee you since BYU has a built-in national fan base, wherever BYU plays they will have a larger crowd in the seats than most if not all Big 12 traveling teams.  Add that to the TV exposure, and do I dare say, only a naïve businessman would pass up that type of opportunity.  What does the Big 12 have to lose vs. what does the Big 12 have to gain?  If it doesn’t work out, the Big 12 would simply not renew the scheduling agreement.  But as it will be proven, the Big 12 would have made a very smart investment with multiple returns increasing their value as a conference.”

Well, I’m sold. I was sold before, but Dean is basically right. BYU does have brand-name recognition with the networks and does have a great fan base. Some Big 12 schools don’t have to worry about filling stadiums. OU, Texas, Kansas State, I assume Baylor now, Texas Tech and OSU to a large extent (unless BYU fans want to buy those club seats in Stillwater). Even Iowa State has a consistently impressive turnout. But TCU, Kansas and West Virginia could use a BYU boost. I think it is a business booster.


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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