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BYU Football: Should the Cougars Stay Independent or Pursue a Spot in the Big 12?

BYU Cougars vs. Utah Utes Prediction and Preview

Could the SEC's move to 16 teams create an opportunity for BYU to join the Big 12?

The Big 12 is down to eight members after Oklahoma and Texas informed the conference of their intent to depart the league after the grant of rights expires in 2025. The conference is facing an uncertain future and may not survive if more members depart for other leagues. However, there's also no guarantee the ACC, Big Ten or Pac-12 will add teams just to match the SEC. Assuming the Big 12 sticks together, BYU should be a priority for the league's expansion plans. The Cougars can bring a successful football program and a large fan base into the conference, while also adding value for the league's television partners. 

Assuming the future of the Big 12 is secure and more members are needed, should BYU pursue a spot in the Big 12? Athlon's editors and writers debate:

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Assuming the eight remaining members in the Big 12 stick together, I think BYU should pursue an invite to the conference. Joining a revamped version of the Big 12 would provide better access to the CFB Playoff for the 12-team version coming in the near future. Also, the Cougars are likely to increase their television revenue by joining this league over remaining independent. Scheduling hasn’t been a problem for BYU since it left the Mountain West but joining the Big 12 would give this program some extra security in that department by accounting for at least eight or nine games every year and improving overall bowl access. If BYU joins a revamped Big 12 with Oklahoma State and West Virginia sticking around, along with some combination of additions from the Group of 5 level, such as Boise State, UCF, Houston and Cincinnati, that would be the makings of a solid league. Also, if BYU joins and the conference falls apart in a few years, it can easily slide back to life as an independent. 

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

Not to kick the Big 12 when it's already down, but if I'm BYU that's not the invitation I'm waiting on. If the Cougars forgo their independence for any conference, the Pac-12 makes the most sense. BYU already schedules a fair number of Pac-12 teams each season (five in 2021), and there's the historic rivalry with Utah. Although the Big 12 would provide the Cougars with power conference status and easier access to the College Football Playoff, there's no certainty right now regarding which teams will be left when the dust settles. It seems like the Big 12 needs BYU more right now than the other way around.

Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)

As the college athletics landscape continues to be shaken up, the future continues to look shaky for any school not affiliated with a conference. The pressure BYU may feel to align with whatever conference it can may never be greater, but what conference is going to be enticing enough for BYU is the big question. Jumping into the Big 12 now feels risky. So the AAC or Mountain West may be the best alternative.

John Coon (@johncoonsports)

There isn't an easy answer for BYU. It all hinges on what is left of the Big 12 if the Big Ten, Pac-12, and ACC all take turns scooping up teams. If the Cougars can join a Big 12 that retains most or all of the remaining eight teams and holds onto power conference status, that's a no-brainer. This reconfigured Big 12 would likely also attract some top Group of 5 teams from a pool that includes Cincinnati, Memphis, UCF, Houston, SMU, San Diego State, and Boise State. In such a scenario, playoff access and TV money will be improved for BYU than where the Cougars stand in the present. Then again, if the Big 12 gets raided until two or three leftovers remain, what's the point of joining? Independence isn't a sustainable long-term solution, but BYU should also be cautious against making any panic moves.

Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)

We saw last season that the College Football Playoff committee didn't respect the schedule of a dominant BYU team, so it would be tempting to say the Cougars should look for other opportunities if the goal is to compete for national championships. However, 2020 was obviously a unique case. BYU has been able to schedule Power 5 teams regularly, including seven in 2021 (five from the Pac-12). A one-loss run through this season's slate would be treated much differently, I suspect. Also, the flexibility of being an Independent allows BYU to play several of its former Mountain West rivals, and as a program with national appeal, the ability to schedule teams from every corner of the map is appealing. Joining a crumbling Big 12, unless it's part of a plan that includes Boise State and some other program the Cougars have a history with, just doesn't seem like a significant upgrade to me.

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