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Five Takeaways From BYU Athletics First Year As Big 12 School

Jun 30, 2024, 6:53 PM

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BYU athletics concluded its first year in the Big 12 Conference in 2023-24. The football had its share of ups and downs. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – The 2023-24 athletic year will always be remembered for ushering in the power conference era for BYU athletics.

One year ago, on July 1, BYU athletics became an official Big 12 Conference member.

The past year was a transition year for the Big 12 as they operated with 14 teams for the first time. Membership included Big 12 newcomers BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. Then Texas and Oklahoma were outgoing members as they eyed the SEC.

For BYU athletics, it was an up-and-down first year in their new league home. Here are five takeaways from BYU’s first year as a power conference athletic department.

1. BYU football needs more resources to compete in the Big 12

BYU football finished last season with a 2-7 record in the Big 12. The only wins were against last-place Cincinnati and Texas Tech, who had a third-string quarterback leading their offense. It was a tough inaugural season for BYU.

BYU was winless on the road in Big 12 games, with all but one of the losses being by double-digits.

The Cougars finished the season on a five-game losing streak for the first time since 1955.

“I thought it was pretty much what I expected it to be,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe told KSL Sports about the 2023 BYU football season. “I thought that it would be super competitive. I thought it would be a difficult transition.

“I think I said this early on when people asked me, ‘What’s it going to be like in the Big 12?’ Then I said, ‘We’ll get punched in the nose, we might take a knee, and we’ll gather our senses and stand up and carry on and we’ll learn and grow.’ And I think that’s kind of a summation of what the season was. We learned a lot about ourselves.”

BYU needs to perform at a higher level on the gridiron. Last year, they were near the bottom in offensive and defensive stats in the league.

However, as Holmoe pointed out, should those results have been expected?

BYU still has work to do when considering the resources invested into the football program compared to its Big 12 peers. An area of focus should be on the support staff with the recruiting department, more analysts, and improved facilities.

With a direct path to the College Football Playoff in front of BYU for the first time, the urgency has to be there to invest more than ever into football.

2. Conference championships are tougher to come by in a power league

BYU’s athletic department finished 36th in the Learfield Directors’ Cup standings, one spot higher than their final year in the WCC. Despite the solid success across the board, there weren’t many conference championships.

The lone conference title was from the women’s cross-country team in October. That was it.

In the WCC, BYU consistently earned several league championships in Olympic sports. It’s not as easy in a power league with athletic departments committed to competing at the highest level.

BYU finished second in women’s soccer and third in women’s volleyball. Men’s basketball was fifth, while the women’s team finished 10th. BYU football finished 11th, softball finished sixth, and BYU baseball was last in the league.

3. BYU basketball is ready to compete annually in the toughest league in America

One year ago, BYU fans asked themselves if BYU men’s basketball would win any games in the Big 12. The Cougars proved that was a short-sighted view as they finished with a 10-8 record in league play and finished fifth.

Former BYU head coach Mark Pope showed that BYU belonged in the Big 12 and that they were ready to compete.

Now, first-year head coach Kevin Young steps in with the chance to take the program to a higher level.

BYU has the depth to once again be an NCAA Tournament team and be in the conversation of the Big 12 championship race.

The resources and commitment shown to Kevin Young’s program put BYU in a position to achieve any goal they set out for the program.

4. Women’s soccer is a powerhouse program within BYU athletics

The top program in BYU athletics resides on the pitch. BYU women’s soccer has emerged as a powerhouse.

Jen Rockwood’s program reached the College Cup last season and had zero defeats in Big 12 play last season.

BYU had a veteran team last season that will cause them to retool this year with 11 freshmen on the roster. Plus, returning forward/midfielder Ellie Walbruch is working her way back from an ACL injury she suffered this off-season.

But don’t expect a sudden drop from the top of the Big 12 for this program that has reached the NCAA Tournament in 11 of the past 12 seasons.

5. BYU’s game day environments leveled up as a Big 12 member

BYU has continued to improve its game day atmosphere at venues.

Look at how well Oklahoma fans viewed LaVell Edwards Stadium last November. The free ice cream added to the hospitality.

BYU has made game days an event. In an era with so many entertainment options and ticket prices are not cheap, BYU has to enhance the entertainment aspect for fans.

When BYU football is winning or in a close game, the energy before the fourth quarter is off the charts with the fire knife performers. Then you throw in buff Cosmo twirling a fire knife; the place melts down.

Conversely, trailing by 30 and having Cosmo perform “Singing in the Rain” leaves people wondering what they just witnessed. Not everything can be a hit.

For basketball, the Marriott Center was as good as advertised. The noise in the building was off the charts for some of the Big 12 games.

One area where BYU can improve is shoving corporate sponsors in everyone’s face at each timeout. At Kansas, they leave timeouts to the fans to naturally begin “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chants.

Regardless, BYU has added to the quality of game day environments in the Big 12.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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Five Takeaways From BYU Athletics First Year As Big 12 School