Today, it's time to peer behind the veil and perceive the mysteries of one of the top candidates for Big 12 expansion: the BYU Cougars. Joining Jon today is all-around SB Nation hero Matt Brown (@MattSBN), who writes for SB Nation itself as well as holding editorial duties at not one but two SB Nation college team blogs: he's the managing editor at the Ohio State site Land-Grant Holy Land, but more pertinently for today's topic he's also an editor at large for the BYU blog Vanquish the Foe.
Jon: First off, on a scale of 1-10, how badly does the fanbase want the Big 12 to extend an invite?
Matt: 11. There may be some trepidation among the fanbase to fully embrace this round of Big 12 craziness, just because BYU has gone down this road multiple times to no avail. But make no mistake, virtually everybody wants to get into the Big 12, ideally ASAP.
Part of it has been the success, stability, and yes, smugness, that Utah has recently enjoyed in the Pac-12. Part of it is wanting to close that widening financial gap. Part of it is wanting a pathway to decent bowl games or the playoff. But mostly, after decades of having a chip on the ol' shoulder, it's about being formally recognized that BYU athletics isn't a mid-major. And that comes from locking down a P5 invite.
Jon: How does the fanbase feel about this whole independence thing a few years in? Is there a sense that a mistake was made, and that -- even with the potential of joining the Big 12 present now -- BYU could have made that move just as easily from the safety of the Em-Dubya?
Matt: I think if you asked most people if they'd do it again, they would. For all of the frustrations about going indie, this is still a better deal than the Mountain West, both in terms of money, and scheduling. Most fans are happy to travel to Michigan, or Nebraska, or UCLA, instead of Wyoming or New Mexico. While some things didn't break their way, and maybe it complicated matters more, it appears to have been a justifiable gamble, and one that has created some fun memories.
Jon: How about the administration? Any sense of their enthusiasm beyond the obvious financial benefits?
Matt: Yes. Former head football coach Bronco Mendenhall publicly lobbied for it, and AD Tom Holmoe has said that joining a P5 conference is their goal. There seems to be a consensus that while being an Indie is great for now, big picture, with the way college football is going, it's not sustainable forever. Everybody on the BYU side would like P5 affiliation.
Jon: We'll get to the things which the suits will focus on -- money, academics, and success -- in a minute. What wacky benefits which the administrations don't care about at all would BYU bring to the Big 12?
Matt: Would you like to go to a September or early October football game that's a nice 73 degrees instead of 107? Provo is for you! Also, would you like to get diabetes via sugar-enhanced soft drinks? Because you can get that in Utah.
Jon: If BYU joined, who do you think they'd quickly form rivalries with? What Big 12 cities are you most excited about potentially visiting?
Matt: TCU is the obvious answer, since the two programs have a shared history in the MWC and some great, hard fought games. Baylor would be the other obvious answer. Baptists and Mormons have low-key had some bad blood over the last few years, and as a fellow private school that's turned their program around, Baylor could be seen as a measuring stick for what BYU could become in the conference.
Jon: Why do WE want to come visit Utah? What's great about Provo? What's your fanbase REALLY like (warts and all)?
Matt: Utah has Mountains! Not hills, but honest-to-goodness mountains. Provo has its own charms, and it's a very reasonable drive to Salt Lake. Those two combined would make for a nicer road trip than a lot of other Big 12 college towns.
Jon: And now, the big one. Pretend we're the Big 12 Board of Directors. Why should we invite BYU as opposed to anyone else? SELL US.
Matt: We wrote about this a few weeks ago. This is, by far, the best football program, one that has constantly competed at a Top 40 level without being able to pitch a conference in recruiting. It's by FAR the biggest fanbase. It's the most well-rounded athletic department. Outside of geography, the biggest drawbacks are political and academic, not athletic.
So whatcha think? Is BYU on your list, or do you want nothing to do with Utah? One person who's totally not into it is Gracey, and she'll be along in a bit to tell you why. Tomorrow, we'll examine what's great about UConn.