Timeline Of Conference Realignment Events Impacting BYU Football
PROVO, Utah – Where will BYU football fit in this new wave of conference realignment?
Conference realignment can feel overwhelming in this social media age, but it’s been something that’s been taking place for the past 100 years in college athletics.
BYU, interestingly, has found itself in a lot of realignment moves and chatter over the years. Here’s a history of BYU’s involvement in conference realignment since the beginning of its football program in 1922.
1922: Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
BYU joins Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The RMAC had rights to all teams in the state of Utah. Once BYU created a football program, they were in the RMAC. The RMAC still exists today and is the home to Westminster Athletics in Division II.
1938: BYU becomes founding member of Skyline Conference
BYU was one of seven programs, along with Colorado, that formed the Skyline Conference. The Cougars were in the Skyline Conference for 24 years.
October 1961: The WAC is created
On October 11, 1961, BYU was a founding member of the Western Athletic Conference. BYU was one of six founding members, including Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. The league conjured up headlines and received interest from a lot of programs wanting membership.
November 1969: Stanford President says Cardinal won’t schedule BYU in any sports
Weeks after BYU was at the center of the Black 14 controversy involving the Wyoming Football program, Stanford’s President Kenneth Pitzer announced that the Cardinal would not schedule BYU in any athletic event due to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not allowing Black-Americans to have the priesthood.
Stanford didn’t play BYU in either men’s basketball or football until 2001. However, football met for the first time in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
December 1976: Pac-8 Invites Arizona, Arizona State
Two founding members from the WAC in Arizona and Arizona State land coveted invitations to the Pac-8 Conference. BYU had just completed its third year under legendary head coach LaVell Edwards.
Summer 1985: Go West, BYU Football
Sport Magazin’s annual preseason college football preview featured defending National Champion BYU on their cover. The cover story read, “Go West, BYU: Why Brigham Young should join the Pac-10.” If only it were that easy.
1990: Pac-10 Conference considers expansion
On the heels of the Big Ten Conference adding Penn State and Florida State joining the ACC, the Pac-10 explored expansion. BYU was among those programs considered if they expanded to 16. The top targets for the Pac-10 were believed to be Texas and Texas A&M. Ultimately; the Pac-10 opted to remain at 10 members under the direction of Tom Hansen as the Commissioner.
Winter 1994: BYU, New Mexico possibilities for “Big 14.”
Members of the Southwest Conference were joining the Big 8 to form a new 12-team league. There were rumblings that the expansion would move towards 14 teams with BYU and New Mexico in the mix.
April 1994: BYU sends fax announcing 16-team WAC
With the Southwest Conference and leftovers from that league who didn’t make the Big 12 cut looking for a new home, the WAC decided to expand. BYU was at the center of the realignment moves, and former school president Rex E. Lee sent out a fax in April of 1994 that the WAC would be expanding to 16 teams and hiring a new commissioner. The 16-team WAC added Rice, SMU, TCU, Tulsa, San Jose State, and UNLV.
1996: First season of 16-team WAC, newly formed Big 12
The 1996 college football season was a year of change in the sport. Newly expanded conferences, overtime rules, championship games, and more. BYU AD Rondo Fehlberg brokered a deal to get the Cougars in the national spotlight to open the big year by hosting Big 12 member Texas A&M in the Pigskin Classic. BYU won that game, 41-37.
1999: Mountain West Conference formed
The 16-team WAC was doomed from the start. Eight members from that league seceded from the WAC to form the Mountain West Conference. The first conference game was played in Provo between BYU and Colorado State, two of the programs believed to have been the brains of the league’s formation.
2000: BYU launches BYUtv
BYU launches its own television station called BYUtv. It launched on Dish Network to 3.8 million subscribers.
2004: Mountain West invites TCU
The eight-team Mountain West Conference expanded by adding a former 16-team WAC rival, rising Conference-USA brand in TCU. The Horned Frogs’ first season of play was in 2005.
August 2004: Mountain West moves on from ESPN, signs TV agreement with CSTV
ESPN turned down the Mountain West Conference’s offers for a TV deal, leaving the young conference with a start-up TV network in College Sports Television (CSTV). The deal was worth seven years, $82 million. BYU was on the first-ever CSTV broadcast against Stanford in 2004. Former BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson made an appearance on the broadcast.
September 1, 2006: The mtn. launches
Comcast and CSTV launched the first-ever conference-specific network called The mtn. The first two years had limited distribution and were only available to Comcast subscribers in select states in Mountain West.
December 2007: MWC turns down BYU’s efforts to simulcast broadcast on BYUtv
Heading into a regular-season finale at San Diego State, BYU still had an outside shot at landing an at-large to a BCS bowl due to everyone in college football losing at least two games or more. The Cougars wanted a chance to get their game against the Aztecs in front of more eyeballs by simulcasting The mtn. telecast on BYUtv. The MWC and Comcast shot down that idea.
December 2009: Big Ten Conference announces they will revisit expansion
The moment when college football expansion was off and running. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany announced his 11-team league would look into expansion.
February 2010: Pac-10 Commissioner announces they will look into expansion
Newly hired Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott announced they would be looking into expansion. Top candidates were considered to be the Texas schools, Colorado, Utah, and possibly BYU.
June 11, 2010: Boise State announces they are leaving the WAC for the MWC
WAC power Boise State announces they are making a move to the Mountain West Conference. BYU is still in the MWC at this time of a vote for Boise’s membership.
June 14, 2010: Austin, Texas sports radio station dupes BYU, Air Force fans
An Austin, Texas radio station caused an uproar on the young social media site known as Twitter in 2010. The Horn 104.9 wrote a tweet that stated BYU and Air Force would be invited to the Big 12 to replace Nebraska and Colorado.
After moments of celebration amongst BYU fans, The Horn then stated someone had access to the account that they shouldn’t have.
June 16, 2010: Utah officially invited to Pac-10 Conference
BYU’s top rival, Utah, lands a coveted invitation to the Pac-10 Conference. Utah accepted the invitation one day later. They joined Colorado to form the Pac-12 Conference.
August 19, 2010: MWC invites Fresno State, Nevada; Blows up BYU’s plan to go to WAC for all other sports
Reports were emerging that BYU was set to declare its football Independence and re-join the WAC in all other sports. Shortly after those reports, the Mountain West Conference invited Fresno State and Nevada to join the league, which they promptly accepted.
WAC Commissioner Karl Benson found out about Fresno and Nevada bolting for the MWC while he was in Los Angeles helping his daughter move into a dorm at USC. He later called Fresno and Nevada’s moves selfish.
BYU had to go back to the drawing board to find where they would take their Olympic sports.
September 1, 2010: BYU Football declares Independence, WCC in other sports
On September 1st, 2010, BYU football declared its Independence with the assistance of ESPN. ESPN controlled BYU’s home game broadcasts for eight years. All of BYU’s non-football sports would join the West Coast Conference.
2011: Big East, BYU engage in negotiations
There was a time when BYU and the Big East Conference were engaged in negotiations. Big East Commissioner John Marinatto was looking to replace Syracuse and Pitt, who were leaving for the ACC. However, talks with BYU stalled reportedly over the Cougars wanting to maintain their home football TV contract with ESPN.
Summer 2015: Former Oklahoma President David Boren said the Big 12 needs to expand to 12 teams
Conference realignment has a way of finding itself in the news every summer. David Boren injected life into the conference realignment conversation in 2015, stating, “I think it’s something we should strive for while we have the time, stability, all of that to look and be choosy. We can be very selective about who we want to add. It would have to add value to the conference. I think we should.”
July 2016: Big 12 announces they are considering expansion again
During a conference call, Bob Bowlsy announced the Board of Directors in the Big 12 approved looking into two to four teams for expansion.
August 9, 2016: LGBTQ organization submits letter asking Big 12 to skip BYU
Athlete Ally, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and 20-plus national LGBT organizations submitted a letter to the Big 12 Conference and its member schools urging it not to consider Brigham Young University (BYU) as a potential new conference member because of the school’s express policy of discriminating against same-sex couples and LGBTQ students.
September 2016: BYU gives a presentation in Dallas
BYU was one of 12 programs to make in-person presentations to Big 12 officials in Dallas.
October 17, 2016: Big 12 decides not to expand
The Big 12 held a press conference announcing that after all the presentations from 12 teams, they were not going to expand. BYUtv picked up the coverage sparking rumors and speculation as to what they knew about the presser. But, ultimately, it was the answer they’ve heard for many years.
“I think that this was really not a decision not to expand, but this was an endorsement and a reinvestment in the strength of the 10 that we have,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
July 21, 2021: Houston Chronicle reports Texas, Oklahoma expressed interest in SEC
A bombshell report that set off the college landscape.
July 26, 2021: Texas, Oklahoma inform Big 12 they will not be renewing Grant of Rights
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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