As of this week, it’s been three years since Tom Holmoe and Brigham Young University announced a move to leave behind the mess that was Mountain West Conference and become independent of an athletic conference in football.
At the time, Holmoe made it clear that football scheduling would be a big issue — especially in the short term. At that time, he mentioned "a transition period of a couple of years before we achieve the full vision of what football independence can become."
The 2013 schedule is chock full of notable opponents, even at home, even in November. On Monday, BYU and California announced a football scheduling agreement for next year in Berkeley and a return game in Provo in 2017.
But don’t assume that scheduling challenges are in the rear-view mirror. Holmoe and his staff still have a ton of work ahead of them, particularly on the home schedule and late-season games.
The relenting Pac-12
There’s no doubt BYU and Pac-12 go together like chili and cornbread. Sure, they’re different food groups and aren’t dependent on one another, but in the end, they make so much sense together.
When a Pac-12 school hosts BYU for a football game, it’s almost guaranteed to mean a boost in ticket sales. With alumni and LDS Church members blanketing the conference’s footprint, it’s no wonder Provo’s Cougars are found on the future slates of USC, Washington State, Stanford, Arizona, Utah and now Cal.
But when the aforementioned Utes made the step up to the Pac-12, fans of the annual rivalry game versus BYU were quickly dismayed to learn that the battle would no longer be played in November due to Pac-12 scheduling rules.
Recently, however, Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill announced — curiously through an awkward YouTube video — that at least the 2018 installment of the series would be played the last day of the season.
And next year’s BYU-Cal matchup will likewise be at season’s end. So did the Pac-12 change its scheduling policy?
No. USC and Stanford have essentially a perpetual scheduling agreement with Notre Dame, and those games take place in October and November. So when either the Trojans or Trees are playing the Irish, it leaves a team without a game. And most teams don’t want a bye that late.
So the conference has opened the door for those Pac-12 teams with a hole in the schedule to fill it. But that puts them in the same predicament as BYU: begging for a good game in November or December.
Combine the fact that BYU brings a crowd and ESPN late in the season, and you see the potential for lots of chili and cornbread on the menu.
So the Pac-12 helps, but it’s not a cure-all to BYU’s scheduling challenges.
There’s no place like home if you can get a game there
A look at the present upcoming home lineup will have any BYU fan giddy. Few programs can boast the diversity plus quality of opponents the Cougars face, let alone the great matchups.
But not all seasons will be like unto 2013 when it comes to home schedule. Aside from fan uprisings on social media, this is likely what keeps Holmoe up at night.
Sure, 2014 isn’t bad, necessarily. But Virginia, Houston, USU, Nevada, Southern Miss and UNLV look a lot more like a MWC or CUSA home lineup than fans will like.
And 2015 is yet to contain a “big-five” conference game at home, while 2016 is currently without a home game altogether.
There are a couple Notre Dame games on the distant horizon in Lavell Edwards Stadium, but other than that the cupboard is currently pretty bare. While it’s not time to panic, considering the miracles Holmoe has pulled off to this point, it’s still likely future home games will be light on the big names and heavy on the bottom half of FBS.
Conference expansion, conference game expansion
As the landscape of college football has seismically been altered, so too has the number of teams in each conference and subsequently the number of league games each team is playing. The Big-12, Big Ten and Pac-12 each play nine league games. The ACC will do so once Syracuse and Pitt join next year.
The SEC, too, led by none other than Nick Saban himself, is discussing the adoption of a nine-game slate.
Those moves are bad for Holmoe & Co. It reduces the number of available games against schools from major conferences drastically. Schools that normally finish in the middle of those conferences will be looking to fill their non-conference lineups with easy wins, as league games are tougher.
Plus, those schools will be looking for more home games to guarantee the lucrative seventh home game each season. BYU seeking home-and-home arrangements will be a much tougher sale.
It’s not an independence killer, but it probably means more non-power-conference teams on the schedule than fans would like.
The help of the Irish
Like it or not, BYU and Notre Dame are bound together.
The schools have five games left on a long-term contract, and as fellow independents, they can rely on each other to fill those tough late-season game slots.
But starting in 2014 Notre Dame has a contract in place to play five ACC teams per season in football while all its other programs will officially compete in the conference.
The announcement of that agreement left the nation — as well as Provo — mulling over what the move means to other school’s agreements with Notre Dame.
The Irish announced in 2012 they were cancelling games against Michigan from 2015–2017. Traditional matchups against Purdue, Michigan State and others could face a similar fate.
The question now is, should Holmoe and Cougar Nation be worried similarly?
Yes, to a point.
So far, BYU’s deal with Notre Dame seems to be pretty safe, but with five games against ACC teams, Stanford and USC as done deals, and traditional rivalries like Navy every year, that leaves only four slots for games BYU might fill. Beyond those remaining five games in the contract with the Cougars, who knows?
Any day the Irish could call and end it.
Independence is still the right course
This year’s schedule is great, and next year’s is good. Most fans would probably argue that even the years beyond that look a lot better than games against annual meetings with Wyoming, Colorado State, New Mexico and SDSU.
Given time, Holmoe now has a track record of making good things happen. Building on that will just be a bit harder moving forward.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company