When TCU officially joined the Big 12 last week as the conference's 10th member, it dashed the hopes of many BYU football fans who have dreamed for decades that their school will join a Bowl Championship Series conference.
Why did the league do a sudden about-face, when for more than a month it was reportedly targeting BYU?
Blame it on television. Specifically, the Big 12's current TV partners ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports Media Group.
Although BYU's flirtation with the Big 12 may yet be renewed at some point beyond next year, The Salt Lake Tribune has confirmed what the Tulsa World first reported on Oct. 7: Big 12 talks with BYU hit a snag last week and the league, at the behest of its television partners, quickly moved to invite TCU.
"There is some rigidity at BYU in terms of what they will and won't do," Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler wrote, quoting a Big 12 source. "Some of it has to do with [LDS Church] rules, and also the way they engage with media partners."
The Tribune has learned that the television partners had concerns with BYU's no-play-on-Sunday policy and how it might impact television plans as they related to televising non-football sports on Sundays particularly the Big 12 conference basketball tournament championship game. That game has not been played on Sunday since 2008, but the television partners wanted to retain the Sunday option.
Additionally, BYU which left the Mountain West Conference for more national television exposure as a football independent apparently wanted assurances from the Big 12 that it would appear on national television a minimum, unspecified, number of times per season. The Cougars also were said to want permission to show their football games not picked up by Big 12 television partners on their own television network, BYUtv, which is available in more than 60 million homes nationwide.
Making the equal-access promise, as well as the provisions for BYUtv, was problematic for the television partners.
BYUtv is not a sports-only network like Texas' new Longhorn Network, but it has a greater national reach. Meanwhile, TCU didn't ask for any concessions related to television broadcasting.
As has been their custom since Texas A&M announced it was leaving the Big 12 on Aug. 31 and BYU emerged as a possible replacement, school officials have remained mum on the matter, consistently referring to an Aug. 31 statement from the school that it is "excited about our relationship with ESPN as a football independent, and our affiliation with the West Coast Conference." A request Thursday for a comment from BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe was declined.
Several news outlets and websites that cover the Big 12 extensively have referenced sources in noting that BYU is currently off the league's list, including Orangebloods.com, a site that covers the University of Texas and has broken many conference realignment stories in the past two years.
BYU signed an eight-year agreement with ESPN last September when it announced its football independence for that network to televise its home football games, and Holmoe has repeatedly called ESPN a "partner" in BYU's future plans. The ESPN deal allows BYUtv to televise at least one home BYU football game per season.
Regardless of what happens long-term, it is certain that BYU will not be in the Big 12 next year. Interim commissioner Chuck Neinas said Missouri will remain in the league for the 2012-13 academic year whether it bolts or not for the Southeastern Conference. The primary question the league must answer when it gets an answer from Missouri is whether it wants 10 or 12 members beyond that year.
The Big 12 is still getting paid under its current TV deal as if it still has 12 teams even though Colorado and Nebraska are no longer in the league. As long as that happens, the conference may not be eager to expand beyond 10 schools because each school will continue to get a larger piece of the revenue pie than they would with 12 schools. The biggest reason for expanding to 12 members, of course, is to add a conference championship game in football and the additional revenue such a game would provide.
BYU's Big 12 dance
Aug. 13 • After Texas A&M confirms it has interest in leaving the Big 12, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe tells reporters BYU has not been contacted by the league.
Aug. 31 • Responding to media inquiries on the day Texas A&M tells the Big 12 it plans to leave, BYU officials issue a statement saying they won't comment on conjecture and speculation and are focused on their independent path.
Sept. 1, • The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Big 12 and BYU have had contact about the possibility of BYU joining that league.
Oct. 6 • The Big 12 invites TCU, not presumed target BYU, to be its 10th member.