BYU football: Cougars and expansion not on the radar at Big 12 media days
LM Otero, AP
DALLAS — The timing wasn't exactly right to discuss BYU's prospects of joining the Big 12 at the conference's media days which concluded Tuesday.
While BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall campaigned for Big 12 membership in his recent comments to an Austin newspaper, the Big 12 unveiled its own campaign during media days that took a hard stance against expansion.
Over two days, Big 12 coaches and officials repeated, mantra-like, the "One True Champion" slogan the conference devised to counteract anticipated criticism for the lack of a conference championship game.
The Big 12 is the only Power 5 conference without a championship game. With the new College Football Playoff format debuting this season, a Big 12 contender not having to play an extra game could become a controversial topic when the four-team field is selected.
"As a league, we're extremely comfortable with where we're at with 10 teams. We think we have a system better than everybody else because we play each other," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.
"There's just so much positive around having one true champion, that I don't think any expansion conversation needs to take place.
Expansion to 12 teams would necessitate a split into divisions and a conference championship game. After nearly being declared dead — twice — in recent realignment shakeups, the Big 12 is clinging hard to its current stability, even if it means being the smallest of the power conferences.
On the other hand, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby opened the media gathering by warning of significant changes on the horizon. Bowlsby said issues such as the O'Bannon lawsuit, athletes unionizing, and making scholarships reflect the actual cost of attendance could significantly alter the way college athletics look today.
Could those financial forces also cause the Big 12 to rethink its stance on expansion?
"Only if they bring more than pro rata value," Bowlsby said. "Between last year and this year, our distribution per school goes up $3.2 million per school. If you do that 12 ways instead of 10 ways, it goes up $2.5 million per school. You've got to have somebody that brings at least pro rata value, and that's a real short list."
Although he didn't put a dollar figure on it, Mendenhall told the Austin American-Statesman BYU would bring value to the Big 12 with its television markets and worldwide following.
"There'd be a ton to offer the Big 12, because it's a money-generated world right now," Mendenhall said. "You're talking about an amazing kind of brand."
Mendenhall's statements were a reversal of previous stances that BYU preferred its independent status.
However, with the Power 5 conferences adopting scheduling mandates and inching toward autonomy, BYU could be stranded by its independence.
"We would love to be in the Big 12," Mendenhall said last month. "I think that would make a lot of sense."
Asked to assess Mendenhall's comments, Bowlsby said, "There's a lot of people that would like to be in the Big 12."
The problem is, the Big 12 likes things just the way they are.
"I like where the league is now, to be able to say one true champion where everybody plays each other," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "And nothing against BYU, I'm just talking in general. When we played in the Mountain West Conference I liked when we played against everybody.
"At this point in time, the way our contract reads, why would we want to slice the pie up any more?"
What would it take for the Big 12 to consider expansion? For one, the new College Football Playoff selection committee might look unfavorably upon a league without a conference championship game.
"They would have to be wiped out of the (national) championship game, maybe once or twice in a row," said veteran Big 12 writer Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. "Have an unbeaten team and then not get consideration for the final four in football. And then they might say, 'OK, we need a championship game,' and go for it that way."
Peterson covered an Iowa State basketball game against BYU in Provo last season and came away impressed.
"It was the first time I had been on that campus," Peterson said. "It was wonderful. It wasn't hard to get there. I would embrace it (BYU membership).
"I get that BYU is trying to position themselves in case the Big 12 would want to expand. Similar programs, similar philosophies. I could see it happening if in fact the Big 12 would go to expansion."
The University of Texas players at media days who played at BYU last season also came away impressed.
"Oh yeah, I think they would fit right in," Texas defensive end Cedric Reed said. "They have the exact style for the Big 12. The quarterback play is big-time. They throw and run, you know, they have mobile quarterbacks. I think they would fit right in."
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