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Provo • Brigham Young University's decades-long quest to join a Power 5 conference suffered a major setback but will continue, the school announced Monday after the Big 12 Conference's 10 presidents made the decision to not expand at this time.
"Our national fan base and broadcast ratings, along with the many historical and recent successes of our teams, attest we certainly belong," BYU said in a statement released after the Big 12 announced its decision. "We believe that BYU can significantly contribute to the athletic and academic excellence of a [Power 5] conference."
That won't be happening soon, however.
University of Oklahoma president David Boren, chairman of the conference's expansion committee, said that no individual schools were discussed and no votes were taken on any schools after the presidents voted "unanimously" to end a three-month process and not add any schools to the 10-member league the smallest of the P5 conferences in terms of members.
"We decided after thorough discussion to remain at 10 members at this time," Boren said.
The announcement comes as a crushing blow to BYU, which has sought admission into a more prestigious, and lucrative, conference for nearly three decades. The Big 12 was seen as its best, and perhaps, last chance, at least until most television contracts expire in 2025. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he informed presidents or chancellors of all 11 schools that were considered finalists after the meeting, and before the news conference, that they would not be admitted.
"Over the last few months, BYU has learned a lot about its strengths as an institution and as an athletic department," BYU's statement said. "Through our in-depth review we have reinforced valuable relationships and have been reminded how strong we are as a university. BYU strives to run its athletic program like a P5 institution."
The conference had been studying its options since a meeting on July 19 in which the presidents instructed commissioner Bowlsby to begin researching possible expansion candidates.
With the best football tradition among the Big 12 hopefuls, a strong academic profile and a nationwide fan base due to its affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU was seen as one of the strongest candidates, along with Houston and Cincinnati.
The Big 12 had been considering expansion for nearly two years as a way to increase its revenue from television broadcast partners and a conference championship game. The NCAA has since allowed it to conduct a championship game in football, and that will happen in December.
Also, the Big 12 was seeking ways to improve its chances of getting a team into the College Football Playoff, something that has eluded the league two years ago and is a possibility again this season.
Neither Bowlsby nor Boren would discuss individual schools during the news conference, but Bowlsby said his staff "did a thorough Title IX review to ensure Title IX compliance" among the schools that had "self-selected" themselves as candidates.
"We did a review of a lot of documents relative to NCAA violations and pending investigations and things like that. We did a very thorough investigation," Bowlsby said.
The commissioner said he "shared a lot of information" after interviews with the 11 finalists and shared it with board members many times to "take their temperature" regarding certain schools, which he did not name.
Boren said the process was not a "waste of time" and the effort of BYU and other schools "was not a wasted effort." Bowlsby said it was done transparently and with respectfulness to the institutions that expressed interest.
It may never be known how much BYU's Honor Code scared away the league's presidents, but Salt Lake Tribune learned that BYU officials were bullish on their prospects in late July and early August, saying things such as "everything looks good," and "everything is on the right track" until reports surfaced on Aug. 8 that LGBT groups were calling on the conference to shun BYU because of its policies on prohibiting homosexual behavior, as outlined in its Honor Code.
Sports Illustrated reported Monday that the "potential backlash" from the LGBT community was one of two "events [that] shifted the tenor of expansion exploration" and that "BYU was the prohibitive favorite to join the league [before] it became politically untenable to take the school."
That inability to add BYU caused Boren to cool on expansion, according to the SI report, after Boren had been its leading proponent and called the Big 12 "psychologically disadvantaged" with 10 members in 2015..
"We all came to the unanimous feeling that this was not the right time" to expand," Boren said, declining to "close the door" completely on the prospects for it down the road.
The Big 12 announced record payouts of $30 million each to its 10 members in June, causing expansion talk to dwindle until July's somewhat surprising announcement that the search for two or four additional schools was heating up again.
The change of heart regarding expansion came about earlier in July when consultants hired by the conference told the presidents that the league could increase its chances of getting into the CFP and its revenue by adding schools.
Specificallly, the Big 12's current TV contracts call for its partners, ESPN and Fox, to pay an additional $25 million per year for each new member admitted to the conference.
Sports Illustrated reported Friday that Big 12 expansion would be delayed, or canceled altogether, because the league's television partners were willing to pay the league not to expand. It was not clear Monday whether that was what ultimately caused the presidents to vote the way they did.
Fox Sports and ESPN are trying to buy out the pro rata clause that calls for the increased payouts if expansion happens, SI reported.
"We don't think expansion in the Big 12 is a good idea for the conference," Fox Sports president Eric Shanks told Sports Business Journal on Monday. "We think it will be dilutive to the product in the short term. In the long term, it is probably harmful to the future of the conference."
The Big 12 originally identified 19 candidates, then interviewed BYU, Air Force, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Colorado State, UConn, Houston, South Florida, Rice, SMU and Tulane in September in Dallas.
As for his remarks a year ago that the Big 12 was "psychologically disadvantaged" because it had few schools than other conferences and did not own its own TV network, Boren said Monday that circumstances have changed, the digital landscape has changed, and the league can survive without more members or a TV network.
Bowlsby concluded that his only recommendation to the board on Monday was to bring closure to the process "one way or another."
That happened, and BYU is again on the outside looking in.
July 19 • Big 12 Board of Trustees directs commissioner Bob Bowlsby to explore expansion and research candidates.
July 22 • BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe tells ESPN.com that BYU is willing to accept football-only membership.
Aug. 8 • LGBT groups call on Big 12 to shun BYU for its stance on homosexual behavior.
Sept. 14 • Oklahoma president David Boren says adding schools may not happen. Oct. 17 • The Big 12 Conference presidents decide not to expand at this time.