PROVO — After spending months exploring the possibility of expansion, the Big 12 Conference announced in mid-October that it would not add any more teams, keeping BYU out of the Power 5 conference mix.
“I was disappointed and frustrated for two or three days,” athletic director Tom Holmoe said Wednesday, answering questions from local media for the first time since the Big 12’s decision to remain at 10 teams. “You’ve got to turn the page and move on. It was frustrating because I thought it was really close. I really believed we had a great chance.”
At the same time, Holmoe added, the athletic department's self-examination process while seeking membership into a Power 5 conference yielded positive results.
“It was a great experience for us,” he said. “We learned a lot about ourselves."
While the Big 12 didn’t work out, BYU is forging on as a football independent.
“We’re just going to continue to compete and do the best things we can with where we are and what we have, which is a good spot,” Holmoe said.
While Holmoe and other administrators spent considerable time, energy and resources to present the benefits of BYU’s inclusion to the Big 12, he understands the decision.
“I don’t really feel like they led us on. I may be wrong, but I feel that they really wanted to do this,” Holmoe said. “It was a good process. We were able to say and show and do everything we needed to do to put our best foot forward. The information that came out after they got into the process, they made a business decision to stop and not do it. I don’t think they mislead us but they changed direction once they started ... We always would love to be a part of a P5. But it didn’t happen for a number of reasons.”
Among the factors that are believed to have affected the Big 12's decision include the protests by LGBTQ organizations that take exception to BYU’s Honor Code regarding homosexual behavior.
Holmoe said he wasn't surprised that social issues played a factor in the process. “Whenever something big happens, there’s going to be people on either side of an issue,” he said.
Holmoe stressed that the desire to join a Power 5 conference wasn’t motivated by financial considerations.
“That’s not the reason you do it,” he said. “The main reason that we wanted to do that was to compete to have our kids be in a situation where they go against the very best day in and day out and compete against the best players and teams. When that doesn’t happen, then you have to chart a different course. Cougar Nation responded. Major donors stepped up in a big way and closed that gap more than we thought they would. We had more donors came to the plate.”
As BYU continues as a football independent, it has a powerful ally in ESPN. The school signed an eight-year deal in 2011 with ESPN to broadcast its home games. The network also helps facilitate scheduling with other schools.
“It’s a great relationship. Every year of the relationship new things occur,” Holmoe said. “It gets stronger. We have greater collaborations, new creativity. ESPN is changing. We’re changing. Together, we feel good about each other. I really respect that company and the people that run it and the talent. They feel really good about what we’re doing.”
Holmoe is confident that BYU will keep partnering with ESPN for many years to come.
“We’ve had numerous opportunities and discussions about extending the contract,” he said. “With two years to go, this is probably the time to start (extending the deal) We’re going to be with ESPN. I don’t think there’s anything right now that would turn that upside down. ESPN’s been so good to us. It’s just a matter of what happens in the future.”
During his 45-minute Q&A with local reporters, Holmoe answered questions on a wide array of topics. Other issues he addressed:
• Football schedule with Notre Dame. When BYU announced it was going independent in 2010, it also announced a six-game series with the Fighting Irish, including two games in Provo. Since that time, however, Notre Dame has entered into a scheduling agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference. BYU has played twice in South Bend but the Irish aren’t scheduled to play in Provo.
“Some Cougar fans are frustrated that nothing is happening. But to me, I’m going to say, somewhere down the road, if they come and play in Provo, that’s a good thing, because they owe us a game in Provo,” Holmoe said. “Or if they don’t want to play, we get a good payday. Both of those things are good things. I’m not going to worry about it right now.”
• Honoring LaVell Edwards. BYU’s legendary football coach passed away in December. Holmoe said his memory will be honored during the 2017 football season but he didn't offer any specifics.
“I get the impact that he had everywhere,” he said. “There are some things we’ll do but his influence will always be there.”
• LaVell Edwards Stadium expansion. Some have talked about the possibility of expanding the stadium from its 63,000-seat capacity but Holmoe said the stadium isn’t selling out, so that doesn’t make sense right now.
“We’re turning our attention to hospitality,” Holmoe said. “(Fans) come to see things other than the game.”