COUGAR TRACKS

Where BYU Fits In Potential Conference Realignment Ripple Effect

Jul 22, 2021, 2:16 PM | Updated: 5:20 pm
BYU Football - Texas...
BYU's Zac Stout tackles John Harris as BYU and Texas play Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in Austin Texas. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Saddle up everyone; conference realignment craziness is back. We’re here for all the action, especially if it includes BYU.

It was pretty amazing to see the Houston Chronicle report that Texas and Oklahoma have reached out to the SEC not just because that would be a seismic shift in the college landscape. But the immediate speculation on social media from the likes of Greg Swaim, Frank the Tank, Tuxedo Yoda, and others. If you’re confused by that sentence, did you not experience 2010 or 2016?

The madness surrounding conference realignment is always spectacular. Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC has a lot of traction. But what type of ripple effect would that move have on the rest of college athletics, and where would BYU fit in all of this?

In the words of Heath Ledger’s The Joker, “And here. We. Go!”

Texas, Oklahoma to the SEC, starting Conference Realignment

This is an excellent move for Texas, Oklahoma, and the SEC. Two of the biggest brands in college athletics potentially teaming up with the best conference in college football. That’s next-level realignment action.

In the proposed 12-team College Football Playoff era, going 9-3 in a 16-team SEC that features Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M likely could still grab an at-large Playoff bid. It makes so much sense for everyone involved and would establish the SEC as the one true power conference.

How does the Big Ten respond?

The Big Ten Conference has taken its bumps and bruises over the past year under the direction of new Commissioner Kevin Warren. But the Big Ten still carries a lot of weight in the college landscape. So if they make calls to programs, they are a hard league to turn down.

The Big Ten currently sits at 14 teams. Adding Kansas would make a lot of sense since the Jayhawks are an AAU (Association of American Universities) member. Their football is horrendous, but the Big Ten once added Rutgers, making it clear on-field performance isn’t a driver of these realignment decisions. Also, KU basketball is a brand that would enhance the already loaded Big Ten hoops conference.

Like Kansas, Iowa State is also an AAU member. They’ve seen a resurgence in football under head coach Matt Campbell, but would the in-state Iowa Hawkeyes want Iowa State in the Big Ten? The footprint makes a lot of sense for the Jayhawks and Cyclones to go B1G.

Big 12 leftovers band together to avoid more conference realignment?

Losing Texas and Oklahoma would be catastrophic for the Big 12 Conference. There are no programs that can replace the value Oklahoma and Texas bring to the league. Back in 2016, Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard said the Big 12 without Texas and Oklahoma would basically be the Mountain West Conference.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby in 2016 said in response to that comment, “I don’t share that vantage point.”

Despite the massive hit Texas and Oklahoma bolting would cause to the Big 12 brand, would the remaining eight Big 12 members try to stay together? If they did, this is where programs like BYU start to perk up.

Keeping the current eight Big 12 teams together and adding, say, BYU, Houston, UCF, and Cincinnati, isn’t great, but better than completely disbanding. It feels unlikely the Big 12 leftovers would take this route. Especially when you read the emotional statement from Oklahoma State after the Texas/Oklahoma bombshell report emerged stating, “While we place a premium on history, loyalty and trust, be assured, we will aggressively defend and advance what is best for Oklahoma State and our strong athletic program, which continues to excel in the Big 12 and nationally.”

Each man for themselves is how I look at that.

The Pac-12

New Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff is about to go head first in the world of big-time college athletics. He acknowledged as much with a funny tweet in response to the Texas/OU reports. The former MGM Resorts President could have the opportunity to reshape the narrative around his conference that took a beating under former commissioner Larry Scott.

Raiding the Big 12 leftovers is an easy thought. Pick up Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and TCU; suddenly, you’re at 16 teams. Do those programs have enough clout to force DirecTV to carry the Pac-12 Network and drive up carriage fees?

If things move this far, it would be interesting to see how Pac-12 Presidents would view faith-based institutions such as Baylor and TCU. If they are good enough for Pac-12 inclusion, why not BYU at that point?

Stay the course as an Independent

Independence has gone better than anyone could have predicted for BYU since they took this unprecedented path in 2011. The Cougars have pieced together schedules that have allowed them to play “Coast to Coast Football” while also having those games featured on some of the biggest TV networks. As a result, independence has been a success for BYU.

But there are drawbacks.

Trying to keep up financially with the power conferences is difficult, especially when BYU is scheduling as many as possible in their Independent schedules. But BYU continues to find ways to compete.

What is going to be tricky moving forward with Independence is the potential 12-team Playoff era. If you’re an SEC team in a 16-team league that features Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, why do you need to challenge yourself out of the conference? Especially when there is no cap on the number of at-large Playoff bids that could come from one conference.

The proposed 12-team Playoff could potentially create challenges that end up far greater than realignment could cause for BYU.

Go back to a Group of Five conference

The proposed 12-team College Football Playoff has made a Group of 5 conference more attractive than ever for BYU. If the dust settles on this potential next wave of conference realignment, and BYU finds themselves outside of a power conference again, would it finally be time to get into a G5 league?

I’ve always felt the American Athletic Conference as a football-only member would make a lot of sense for BYU. It gives BYU the chance to remain on ESPN networks, play coast to coast for their national following while also playing in the best non-power football league.

To take another line from the late Heath Ledger as The Joker, “You wanna know how I got these scars?” Conference realignment, baby. Conference realignment.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Where BYU Fits In Potential Conference Realignment Ripple Effect