Today, Texas A&M was voted entry to the SEC. Now, there's renewed talk of solidarity among the remaining Big 12 members. Could the conference be on the cusp of inviting BYU to round out its membership?
It’s amazing how happily ignorant media and fans can be. There’s been a blizzard of news articles, talk-radio blather and tweets-sent-without-the-benefit-of-inner-monologue in the past two weeks regarding that very possibility.
Some are excited about the idea; Others less so, which is fine.
But the reasons for not wanting BYU are so blatantly misinformed they make Charlie Sheen's dialogue seem lucid.
I’ve read, heard and seen tweeted things like
“…a smaller school like BYU.”
“…in a remote place like Provo, Utah.“
“BYU lacks Big 12 facilities and academics.”
Maybe it’s just plain ignorance. But someone needs to set the record straight. When the facts are laid out, BYU isn’t just a fit in the Big 12, it moves to the upper half in all major categories.
Let’s dispel the myths…
Myth No. 1: BYU is in a smaller market
I’ll talk about national following in a bit. But first, let’s look solely at regional media-market considerations.
Ranking solely on market size, BYU would be tied for third largest in the Big 12 (using Arbitron rankings).
1. Texas: Austin/Houston/Dallas - ~12 million
2. Kansas schools: Kansas City/Topeka/Manhattan - ~2 million
3. BYU: Salt Lake City/Ogden/Provo - ~1.8 million
3. Oklahoma Schools: OKC/Tulsa - ~1.8 million
5. Iowa State: Des Moines - ~527,000
6. Texas Tech: Lubbock - ~225,000
7. Baylor: Waco - ~195,000
8. Missouri: Columbia - ~135,000
Maybe you don’t like the media market breakdown because they fail to consider the states as a whole. So look at the state-by-state breakdown (looking at these numbers, it’s plain to see why Texas has all the clout).
1. Texas: 25 million
2. Missouri: 6 million
3. Oklahoma: 3.7 million
4. Iowa: 3 million
5. Utah: 2.8 million
5. Kansas: 2.8 million
Going by state population, BYU is tied for fifth. But keep in mind, Iowa State owns only a share of the Iowa market, so that’s a bad gauge. Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State split their markets, so that’s misleading as well. And Oklahoma owns the large majority of its market, leaving OK State with a much smaller base. Same for Baylor and Texas Tech.
Slice and dice it however you like. But in the end, Texas owns the league, Oklahoma is a distant second, and BYU would be bunched with the rest at around a geographic market size of 3 million viewers.
Does Size Matter?
And we keep hearing over and over again that a major driver in conference realignment is TV market size. Is that really even true?
In the case of the Pac-12 it’s not, entirely. The University of Utah is in the Salt Lake City market, but is a very distant second to BYU in terms of capitalization. And Utah has little to no national following. Think Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State. Or Washington vs Washington State. But the Pac-12 chose them anyway, putting religion…errrr…research status ahead of market value.
And many of the country’s major college programs are not in major media markets. Look at the SEC. Aside from Atlanta, there isn’t a major market in the conference.
So there's much, much more to the equation than size. There's tradition. Traditional rivalries. Political ties. Program success. Institutional fit.
And then there's the national following nuance.
Consideration for a national following
The problem is, gauging national following is very hard to do.
But did you know there are nearly 500,000 members of the LDS church in the current Big 12 footprint? That’s like adding another media market to BYU’s following in those states alone!
Everyone knows Notre Dame has a huge national brand. But their TV contract with NBC is reportedly worth less than BYUs with ESPN.
But I’m getting off track here. The point is that the Big 12 has just two programs with a true national following: Texas and Oklahoma.
BYU would become the third. Add that weight to the media market numbers above, and it’s no stretch to think that BYU becomes the third most valuable team in the league in terms of media contract bargaining.
Myth No. 2 - BYU is a “smaller school”
This one cracks me up. Actually, scratch that. It pisses me right off because it's so blatantly untrue.
Texas is the biggest school in the Big 12, by far (see a trend developing?).
Were BYU in the conference, it would be second only to UT. Here are the enrollment numbers:
1. Texas: 50,000
2. BYU: 34,000
3. Texas Tech: 31,000
4. Missouri: 33,000
5. Kansas: 30,000
5. Oklahoma: 30,000
7. Iowa State: 29,000
8. Kansas State: 23,000
8. Oklahoma State: 23,000
10. Baylor: 14,000
Mark May of ESPN is one of the worst at embarrassing himself by consistently calling schools “smaller” when they are, in fact bigger than those he’s comparing to.
Either way, media and fans need to get that fact straight and put an end to the ignorant misnomers.
Myth No. 3 - BYU’s facilities and support aren’t Big 12 caliber
We all leap before we look from time to time. But in this conference expansion talk, so many people who should know better are naturally assuming that because BYU came from the Mountain West, that it must have Wyoming-like facilities.
But it doesn’t.
Start with stadium size for football. Were BYU in the Big 12, it would have the fourth biggest stadium.
1. Texas: 100,000
2. Oklahoma: 82,000
3. Missouri: 71,000
4. BYU: 64,000
5. Oklahoma State: 60,000
6. Texas Tech: 60,000
7. Iowa State: 55,000
8. Kansas State: 51,000
9. Kansas: 50,000
9. Baylor: 50,000
And how about attendance? The 2010 numbers have BYU tied for third, even in a down year. in 2009 they averaged 64,000.
1. Texas: 100,000
2. Oklahoma: 84,000
3. BYU: 61,000
4. Missouri: 61,000
5. Texas Tech: 57,000
6. Oklahoma State: 50,000
7. Kansas State: 49,000
8. Iowa State: 45,000
9. Kansas: 44,000
10. Baylor: 40,000
And in basketball, arena size isn’t even a debate. BYU’s Marriott center seats over 22,000, leaving Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas a distant second.
Still have doubts? Take a trip to Manhattan, Stillwater, Ames, Lubbock, Lawrence, Columbia and Waco, then trek to Provo and see the indoor practice facility and athletics center. The facilities debate will resolve itself.
Myth No. 4: BYU isn’t academically on par
Using US News and World Report’s National College rankings, BYU finishes second among Big 12 schools, finishing behind only (guess who?) Texas. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State bring up the rear in the rankings in the Big 12.
The methodology used considers undergrad and graduate programs, retention rates, graduation rates and more.
By the way, BYU finishes ahead of all but the California schools and Washington in the Pac-12. And in most cases they are WAY ahead. Especially compared to Utah.
In the end, BYU makes too much sense
The best arguments I can come up with for not making BYU a top choice for the Big 12 are:
1. It doesn't adjoin any other current Big 12 state
2. It may not accept
In the end, handicapping conference realignment is a fool's errand. But if you're gonna do it, especially in a national media outlet (looking at you T-Boonies), at least be informed.
Follow Ryan at Twitter.com/SportsGuyUtah