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Dick Harmon: Big 12 not looking to expand, but BYU's a candidate in waiting

Published: Saturday, July 19 2014 5:00 p.m. MDT

“Then the league may re-evaluate. Simple math tells you that one of the Power 5 is going to be left out of the playoff each year. The league believes it is stronger schedule-strength-wise with 10. It's motto this year, "one true champion."

BYU has the Big 12 payload if a launch code is needed. The Cougars sponsor more varsity sports than any Big 12 program with 21.

BYU’s enrollment (34,123) would be third in the league in total enrollment behind Texas and Oklahoma State. BYU’s average student GPA would be No. 1 in the league; its law school and business school are ranked second only to Texas. BYU’s university endowment of $957 million would rank No. 5 in the Big 12. LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,725 capacity) would be the third-largest in the league behind Texas and Oklahoma.

Geography does work against BYU in Provo, but it is only 55 added flight minutes for Big 12 teams that had to fly into Denver when Colorado was a founding member in 1994. And charter flights land in Provo these days, eliminating the 45-minute bus ride from Salt Lake International Airport.

After two seasons in the Big 12, West Virginia is finding it burdensome for its teams to travel into Big 12 territory, according to many league observers. It would be a 30-hour drive from Morgantown to Provo.

Two veteran sportswriters in Oklahoma, one from Tulsa and the other in Oklahoma City, have heard all the expansion arguments and agree BYU’s main hurdle is geography if the Big 12 expanded.

Jimmie Tramel has covered college sports for the Tulsa World for 25 years and wrote a book on Sooner legend Barry Switzer. Berry Tramel is a veteran columnist for The Oklahoman and a popular opinion provider on Big 12 issues.

Jimmie Tramel on geography: “Adding BYU would extend the Big 12's borders from West Virginia to Utah. That's a haul. Was geography one of the reasons the old 16-team WAC failed?

“I think it's interesting that people draw a distinction between east-west geography and north-south geography. Folks seem to complain when a conference stretches east and west, like the 16-team WAC experiment. But nobody ever viewed it as problematic that the old Big East stretched from the southern tip of Florida all the way north to Syracuse. Travel has been harder on West Virginia than other Big 12 schools because the Mountaineers are taking long flights for every road game. That's got to be grueling and it's a lot to ask of student-athletes. BYU, if asked to join, would need to decide if that's worth accepting the offer.”

Berry Tramel also cites miles as a bigger challenge than any other BYU issue.

"In some ways, BYU fits in the Big 12. And in some ways not,” he said.

"Competitively, BYU clearly would be fine. The Cougars would fit nicely with the Big 12's newfound parity in football — five schools have won the last five Big 12 titles — and BYU would be in the large bunch chasing Kansas in basketball.

"Financially, I think BYU would work. BYU probably is the only school outside the Power 5 conferences that would bring as much to the television pie as it would take. So that's a very important piece,” said Berry.

"But geographically, BYU doesn't work as well as it would have in 2010. The addition of West Virginia stretches the Big 12 so far to the east, it's difficult to imagine the Big 12 stretching just as far to the west. From Oklahoma City, it's closer to Morgantown than it is to Provo.

"Culturally, I think BYU would be fine," Berry added. "The Sunday issue would have to be addressed, but if BYU worked in all the other areas, the no-play Sunday thing is no big deal. Nobody plays [college] football on Sundays. The Big 12 basketball tournament ends on Saturday now; the Big 12 women's tournament could easily be changed.

"Perhaps BYU's biggest detriment is the lack of a partner. The Big 12 doesn't want to go to 11 schools. So who's the 12th? The likely candidates are east. Which is more of a problem for BYU.

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