They Knew Who We Were
BYU football followed the win-win news of joining the Big 12 with a win of their own—the first against rival Utah in more than a decade. (Photo: Jaren Wilkey/BYU).
BYU’s move to the Big 12 was five years in the making.
In the summer of 2020, BYU administrators invited a respected research firm to conduct an analysis of BYU Athletics to better understand its role within the Church Educational System. The firm came back with great news: BYU Athletics does an incredible job of connecting audiences to the university and its sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But they also identified room for growth.
They developed a broad strategic plan and helped refine Athletics’ mission statement. Among the key goals was a recommendation to maximize the influence of the football program by joining a “power five” conference—one of the preeminent Division I football conferences.
“Football is the most prominent sport, it generates the most revenue, and its health determines the health of the rest of the program,” President Worthen recently told a group of donors. “You can have great teams, but to sustain them, you’ve got to have a good football program.”
Fortunately, the university had already made inroads with a conference just a few years earlier. In 2016, BYU made a presentation to Big 12 officials, and while the conference ultimately decided not to expand, the meeting left an impression.
“We had talked about the Honor Code, Sunday play, social issues,” President Worthen remembers. “They knew us; they knew who we were. And they knew we’d be a good fit for the conference.”
Throughout the intervening years, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe kept the relationship strong, and Big 12 officials kept a watchful eye on BYU and its athletics program.
Then this past summer, when the Universities of Texas at Austin and Oklahoma announced their intention to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, President Worthen needed only to make a phone call—because the relationship had already been established.
“I reached out to Commissioner Bob Bowlsby in August, and within two weeks, we were in the Big 12 Conference,” said President Worthen.
BYU’s Big 12 era won’t officially begin for two more years, but there are already hints of what it will bring. Yes, there will be greater television revenues. But most importantly, BYU student-athletes will be up against some of the toughest competition anywhere in the NCAA. That will give them and the university a higher platform from which to share the message and story of BYU.
“Decisions about where we play, who we play, and what conference we compete in are about the student-athletes first and how we can help them achieve excellence,” Holmoe said in the announcement. “Competing on the Big 12 stage provides more opportunities for our student-athletes. That’s what it’s all about.”