The key to moving real estate and surviving in college football is the same – location, location, location.
For BYU, it’s not what you know, or where you’ve been, it’s where are you sitting? This week in Dallas, the Cougars are finally sitting in the chair they’ve been dreaming of for years.
After decades of moving from one hopeful cause to another, BYU President Kevin J Worthen entered Friday’s Big 12 conference spring business meetings as a future partner, a P5, a program with access to everything the big boys have from July 1st. , 2023.
Worthen, sitting in a chair at the table at the Four Seasons Resort, is the most significant development in BYU sports history, outside of winning the 1984 national championship.
Even as the Cougars see one more season as independents, all eyes are on the future and a conference that loses Oklahoma and Texas and retakes BYU, Houston, Central Florida and Cincinnati.
There’s a new commissioner to hire, a new TV package to negotiate for 2026 and beyond, schedules to change, including Sunday-free play for BYU in all sports, and new rivalries to create.
It all sounds like a major headache, but it’s a pain the Big 12 will take over the extinguishment option and an discomfort the Cougars have wished for, despite the anguish they went through to get to this point.
The Western Athletic Conference grew from 10 to 16 teams in 1996 in hopes of creating a champion who could propel themselves into the upper echelon of big-money games.
In WAC’s dream scenario, No. 6 BYU defeated No. 20 Wyoming 28-25 in overtime in the WAC’s first championship game on Dec. 7, 1996, in Las Vegas.
The thrilling battle in front of a full house has WAC officials looking forward to the possibilities of the upcoming bowling season. What they received instead was a punch in the stomach.
The Bowl Alliance, despite BYU’s No. 5 ranking and 13-1 record, snubbed the Cougars and WAC by inviting Big 12 champion Texas (8-4) to face Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl much more lucrative.
BYU beat No. 14 Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl 19-15 to finish 14-1, while the Nittany Lions shook the Longhorns 38-15 and Texas finished its season 8-5. The Cougars received $2 million for their participation in the Cotton Bowl. Texas, as a member of the Bowl Alliance, received $17 million for its invitation to the Fiesta Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl win was historic for BYU as the Cougars’ first and only New Year’s Day bowling game, but it painted a grim picture for conferences and programs living outside the coalition.
LaVell wedding ring against bowl
Cougars head coach LaVell Edwards fought to get all mid-majors a seat at the table. He testified in 2004 before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the monopoly created by the Bowl Alliance by limiting access to the largest bowls to a few select conferences. Edwards argued that this created unfair recruiting advantages.
“With the BCS in place, Pac-10 coaches could tell players not only that they couldn’t play in the Rose Bowl, but that they wouldn’t play in a national championship game if they chose to s enroll in school in Provo,” Edwards told the Deseret News on Oct. 30, 2004. “Under today’s BCS scheme, that 1984 BYU (national champion) team couldn’t have played in a title match, the system wouldn’t allow it.
To avoid congressional action, the Bowl Alliance renamed itself the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) and opened a small window for mid-major programs to compete. Utah became the first to succeed when the Utes defeated Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.
If the Utes hadn’t sent a fruit basket to Edwards, they should have.
The BCS became the College Football Playoff in 2014, which still serves and protects its P5 members and leaves non-P5s feeling like long shots.
Dissatisfied with the oversized 16-team WAC and lack of natural rivalries, BYU and Utah left to form the Mountain West Conference on May 26, 1998, with members joining Wyoming, Colorado State, Army of the Air, San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV.
The new conference also announced a seven-year partnership with ESPN and the formation of its own television network – The Mtn. But BYU’s relationship with MWC has soured due to the limited access and regional reach of its television network.
Not only The Mtn. not broadcast to a national audience, but he denied BYU access to replay games on BYUtv, which had national reach. It didn’t sit well with the administration or the fanbase, and when Utah locked the league for the Pac-10 in 2011, BYU left to go independent in football.
An independent bet
Access and exposure. This is what BYU estimated it needed one day to be accepted as a P5 program and become a member of a P5 conference.
Going it alone, with ESPN and BYUtv as TV partners, was a gamble and BYU, not known for being a risk taker, decided to roll the dice as an independent.
The Cougars gave it their all for 10 seasons and had to wonder if the call would ever come? Last August, after Oklahoma and Texas announced their departure from the Big 12 to the SEC, the opportunity finally presented itself.
After the snub of 1996, the 16-team WAC experience, 12 years at the MWC and 10 years as an independent, the call came. The Big 12 needed a strong football program with a domestic audience that could join the league on short notice.
BYU accepted the Big 12 invitation on Friday, September 10, and went out and defeated Utah the following night in front of a sold-out cheering crowd at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The ship had finally arrived in port. The long night was over. A bright future loomed on the horizon.
If there were two consecutive more significant days in Cougar lore, I don’t know what they would be.
A seat at the table
Unconvinced that day would ever come, BYU relegated its hopes to doing enough to justify “being in the room” with college football’s self-proclaimed elite. That’s why the No. 8 Cougars agreed to an unprecedented game at No. 14 Coastal Carolina on three days’ notice in early December 2020.
They put their undefeated season on the line as a last chance to convince the CFP committee that they deserved a New Year’s Six Bowl game. BYU’s Dax Milne was tackled at the 1-yard line as time expired in a 22-17 defeat.
Such late-season shenanigans won’t be necessary for BYU anymore, because when Worthen walked into Big 12 meetings, he not only walked into the room, he sat down at the table, in his place.
Location, location, location. BYU in Dallas. BYU in the Big 12. BYU with a seat at the table. There is no place Cougars would rather be.
Dave McCann is a contributor to Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review”, co-host of “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.