COUGAR TRACKS

BYU AD Embracing Return Of Utah Rivalry In Big 12 Conference

Dec 6, 2023, 2:17 AM | Updated: Dec 11, 2023, 12:09 pm

LAS VEGAS – If you told someone a few years ago that BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and Utah AD Mark Harlan would be participating in the same meetings for one power conference league.

You probably would have been viewed as a crazy person.

The two heated rivals in the Beehive State are together again.

Both in-state athletic directors were taking part in meetings for the Big 12 Conference in Las Vegas.

Years ago, that would have meant Independent BYU was suddenly in a power league. And Utah was no longer part of the PAC-12.

Unthinkable thoughts that no one expected to happen.

Former Tennessee great and current NFL Network analyst Charles Davis even pointed that out during his emcee duties at the National Football Foundation dinner at the ARIA Hotel in Vegas.

Davis, while talking about Holmoe, who was receiving the John L. Toner Award, said Holmoe “shepherded BYU into the Big 12. Something not many people thought would happen.”

A lot has happened over these two-and-a-half years.

BYU continues to navigate its first academic year as a Big 12 institution. Utah is gearing up for the Big 12 on August 2, 2024. That’s when they officially will join the league, completing their 13-year run in the Pac-12 Conference.

Tom Holmoe on BYU/Utah: ‘I think the rivalry is fantastic’

How does BYU’s Tom Holmoe feel about the Utes joining the Big 12?

“I think the rivalry is fantastic,” Holmoe said to KSL Sports. “When I came to BYU as a student-athlete in 1978, Utah was in our league in the old Western Athletic Conference (WAC). And some of those games are the most memorable in my career. I coached against the University of Utah when I was a graduate assistant at BYU. Those were great matchups. As me being the athletic director, we’ve played them as an Independent and in the Mountain West Conference. Those are great, fantastic games.

“I think that the student-athletes, the coaches, and the people that are involved in the games have a great deal of respect for each other and the competitive nature of those battles. I think that we can carry on with that and make it even stronger.”

Big 12’s TV partners, ESPN and FOX, definitely envision the BYU/Utah rivalry making the league stronger.

Rivalries are important to the 16-team Big 12

The BYU/Utah matchup was one of four protected rivalries in the Big 12’s scheduling matrix from 2024 to 2027.

When the game is played annually is still up in the air. Thanksgiving weekend makes a lot of sense. Regardless, it’s a valuable asset to a Big 12 that lacks top-shelf rivalries.

“I think [BYU/Utah] is great for the conference,” said Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark in October. “Our media networks like it too. Rivalries matter. Historic matchups matter.”

But was BYU always supportive of Yormark’s Four Corner (Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado) plan that involved bringing Utah to the Big 12?

“There’s an incredible relationship between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University that’s existed for 100 years,” Holmoe said. “I don’t think at this point in time there would be a reason to be against trying to bring those games back together and that relationship back together.”

Working in pairs

If conference realignment has shown us anything, programs need a strong partnership, typically with a rival. Texas and Oklahoma are off to the SEC.

USC and UCLA bolt for the Big Ten—the same with Oregon and Washington.

It’s better to work in two’s than on your own.

BYU and Utah will look to lift up the Big 12 moving forward into the new 16-team era of the league.

“In our conference, the Big 12 is stronger because of having BYU and the University of Utah in it,” Holmoe said. “From Big 12 meetings right now, when you are in that room, you feel the strength of all the members of that conference. We’re two of the stronger members together now, and I think it’s going to be a good relationship.”

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 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU AD Embracing Return Of Utah Rivalry In Big 12 Conference