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Would Pac-12 Consider Expansion With BYU As Football-Only Member?

The BYU Cougars take the field at a nearly empty LaVell Edwards Stadium before their game against North Alabama in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The conference realignment has cooled a bit since the whirlwind of events with Texas, Oklahoma bolting for the SEC. But everyone wants to know where the next move is going to happen.

The Pac-12 Conference is one that many around the college football landscape look at and wonder how they respond.

New Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff made an impressive debut at Pac-12 Media Days last month with his vision for the conference. He made it clear his league isn’t looking to expand, but they will take phone calls, and he’s getting a lot of them.

Football-only in the future for the Pac-12?

Washington State President Kirk Schulz, a former president at Kansas State University, is well versed in conference realignment from his time in Manhattan during realignment craziness in 2010. He recently spoke with Pac-12 Hotline’s Jon Wilner about a conversation he had with Kliavkoff. He made some intriguing comments that should pique the interest of the administrators of the leftover eight in the Big 12 BYU, for that matter.

“I called George and told him that I’ve been through it before. I wanted to make sure we weren’t sitting on the sideline. And he said, ‘I have six options for us.’

“He’s thinking deeply about these things. Should we be in the acquisition mode? Should we look to add members? Should they be football-only members? Should we consider a schedule alliance?

“I am so glad George is at the helm. We’re not resting on our laurels. He’s looking at options and what we can do to maximize our football brand. He’s the right leader at the right time.”

Football-only? Huh, there’s a program that would be perfect for that arrangement. That’s BYU.

Kliavkoff didn’t comment to the Pac-12 Hotline on the specifics of the six options out there for the Pac-12. But if football-only is one of them, there’s no better fit than BYU.

The options in the conference expansion market are limited. No one in the Big Ten or SEC is going to leave their respective leagues. And members of the ACC are locked into a bad grant of media rights deal till 2036.

That leaves the leftover Big 12 teams, BYU, and many Group of 5 programs.

BYU would bring value as a football-only member

Gone are the days of cable boxes being the deciding factor in realignment moves. In the current landscape, it’s all about value. So what value could BYU bring to the Pac-12 as a football-only member? In my opinion, there’s a lot of value BYU could bring. Even SEC talking head Paul Finebaum sees the value in BYU.

Well, what about BYU not being a major research institution? Former Pac-12 Commissioner Tom Hansen noted that was a big reason why BYU was never admitted into the PAC.

BYU isn’t an R1 Carnegie Research Institution. But if you’re making football-only membership moves, why should research status factor into the equation? If the Pac-12 added full members, maybe university presidents can use major research as a talking point again. Otherwise, football-only should be about football accolades. BYU has a lot to like.

On the field, BYU is one of the 10 winningest programs over the last 50 years in college football. They’ve had more wins in the last 50 years than anyone in the Pac-12. In addition, they boast a national fanbase with its affiliation through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If the Pac-12 dove into the world of a premium subscription service, BYU fans are going to be some of the fastest to sign up if it gives them the chance to see their team play Power 5 football. Heck, they’ll pay to watch BYU play UMass. But they definitely would pay to see a BYU-Utah game with conference implications again. Especially with the game taking place in a power league.

When BYU plays against the Pac-12’s Arizona Wildcats next month in Las Vegas, the home of Kliavkoff’s previous employer, MGM Sports and Entertainment, it will likely be a sea of royal blue in the desert’s “Death Star.” Any Pac-12 venue BYU has traveled to over the years has produced a strong contingent of BYU fans going through the gate.

That’s a value add to a league that saw only one program beat out BYU’s attendance numbers in 2019 (Washington).

No Sundays, no problem

Football-only membership isn’t common in conferences, and it definitely isn’t a thing among the autonomous leagues as no power conferences have football-only members. But the Pac-12 needs to be proactive, as Washington State’s President Schulz expressed.

Adding BYU as a football-only member would eliminate the potential headaches of juggling BYU’s no Sunday rules. The Cougars wouldn’t need to be allocated a full revenue distribution amount as a football-only member. Those are important talking points.

With adding BYU as a football-only member, the quality of play on the gridiron would improve. BYU defeated the Pac-12’s blue-chip brand in USC just two seasons ago. They have the infrastructure and program history to be competitive from day one as a football-only addition in the Pac-12.

Bumping up the number of teams to 14 or even 16 could give the Pac-12 the chance to focus inside the league and schedule 10 league games, giving them a great chance to get multiple teams into the proposed 12-team College Football Playoff.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said last October he believes the Pac-12 has helped out BYU a lot during their era of Independence. Could that help eventually into a football partnership?

It’s a move that I believe would bring value to both BYU and the Pac-12 Conference.

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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