CENTERVILLE — BYU’s impending move to the Big 12 is long overdue. The Cougars should have been invited long ago. Time will also tell if the vulnerable Pac-12 is making a mistake by not adding them in this time of great change in college athletics.
All that said, the Big 12 is a good landing spot for BYU. Of the four schools reportedly invited to apply for membership — a group that includes Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston — the rise-and-shout guys bring plenty to the table. Absolute geography aside, the Cougars are a good fit.
Based on a five-year study of attendance by the College Football News, which ended in 2019 before the pandemic, BYU’s average of 56,597 ranks an extremely close third in the league. Departing Oklahoma and Texas are not included. Texas Tech (56,924) leads the new-look conference, while West Virginia is second.
A quick examination of television markets (Nielsen DMA rankings) puts the program in fourth position. Salt Lake City is ranked 30th in the nation trailing only Big 12 regions like Dallas-Fort Worth (5th), Houston (8th) and Central Florida (18th).
Geography, though, may be the biggest challenge for the Big 12’s western-most post. BYU’s closest Big 12 foe is Texas Tech. Lubbock is a healthy 874 miles from Provo. The only other team under 1,000 miles away is Kansas State (976), By contrast, the longest gap in terms of distance is between BYU and Central Florida. The schools are separated by 2,321 miles. The Cougars and West Virginia are 1,928 miles apart.
Distance — and lot’s of it — will be commonplace for the Cougars. The rest of the journeys include Kansas (1,048 miles), Iowa State (1,116), Oklahoma State (1,126), TCU (1,175), Baylor (1,265), Houston (1,435) and Cincinnati (1,666).
Such gaps prompt a question about future western expansion in what is becoming a nationwide conference of sorts. Attendance-wise, Boise State (32,916) would rank ninth in the revamped Big 12. San Diego State (33,909) checks in at No. 10 with UTEP (21,658) and UNLV (17,541) lagging last. San Diego and Las Vegas are television markets that would rank third and seventh, respectively in the conference.
East-based hopefuls Memphis (36,295) and South Florida (32,945) have brighter hopes, but both would rank 10th in the conference. The Tampa television market is 12th in the country and Memphis is 51st.
Even though possible, it’s doubtful the Big12 would continue to gut the American Athletic Conference if Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston ultimately depart.
So there it is. The Big 12 beats independence for BYU, but it’s far from perfect. Even so, a move to a higher-profile conference is long overdue. It’s time for the Cougars to cash in and rack up the frequent flyer miles.