After both the ACC and SEC went out of their way to exclude BYU from "Power 5" status under their new scheduling rules, at least one athletic director from a power conference went on the record to say that the Cougars are the equivalent of an opponent from a big-time conference.
That would be Arizona vice president for athletics Greg Byrne.
Byrne said so to Fox Sports 910AM Phoenix on Thursday. When asked about the new College Football Playoff, Byrne said: "We as a conference are starting to schedule other, I don't know what the proper terminology is now, but 'Big 5' conference schools. We've done a three-year agreement with BYU for ’16, ’18 and ’20. We count that as the equivalent of playing one of those."
If that's not a "Power 5" stamp of approval, what is?
Now, Byrne probably didn't make this statement purely out of goodwill toward the Coguars. It is in his school's best interest to call BYU a power opponent. In fact, it is in the best interest of the entire Pac-12 — Utah included — to say that BYU is a "Power 5" quality opponent.
BYU will play 20 games against eight of the Pac-12 teams between now and 2025. Since strength of schedule is a major component of the new College Football Playoff, it benefits the Pac-12 to play up BYU as a difficult opponent.
The only team that is scheduled to play the Cougars in the future is Virginia, which they will play in 2014, 2019 and 2020. Naturally, there's less incentive for both of those conferences to recognize BYU as a "Power 5" opponent.
Geography is clearly an issue here. It's more convenient for the Pac-12 schools to travel to Provo than it is for ACC and SEC schools, and the Pac-12 is a bit isolated from the other "Power 5" conferences. BYU is much closer to teams such as Stanford, Arizona and UCLA than Texas Tech of the Big 12 or Nebraska of the Big Ten, much less Texas A&M of the SEC or Louisville of the ACC.
So, expect BYU to play even more games against Pac-12 opponents than the 20 matches already on future schedules. As long as the Pac-12 continues to play the Cougars, it is in its best interest to consider them a "Power 5" quality opponent.
Of course, much of this "Power 5" vs. "non-Power 5" scheduling is absolutely absurd. Does anyone really want to argue that a game against Central Florida last season — a team that finished 12-1, defeated Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 10 in the final AP poll — carried less weight than playing Purdue — a team that had just one victory and zero wins over FBS opponents last season — just because UCF is in the American while Purdue is in the Big Ten?
It makes no sense. It's truly sad that conference politics negates what should matter most in college football, and that's what happens on game day on the gridiron.
All of that said, at least Cougar fans can take some comfort in the vindication Byrne and Arizona offered BYU on Thursday.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.