provo, utah – on September 10, 2021, at 7 a.m. m., in room c301 of the abraham o. plain administration building (more commonly known as the “x”-shaped building) on campus, byu officials gathered for a historic meeting.
the reason? byu was awaiting official word from the presidents of the big 12 that his application for membership in the big 12 conference would be accepted.
“Actually, it was kind of a surreal moment,” BYU’s VP of Forwarding, Keith Vorkink, told KSL Sports, who was at C301 that morning on Sept. 10. “…we were a bit quiet and we knew what was at stake. it wasn’t as if there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty. we anticipated it would go our way, but the call came from (former) commissioner bowlsby to the president (worthen) around 7:20 in the morning.”
Just like that, byu had achieved a goal they had pursued for decades. a seat at the table with one of the nation’s top university conferences as a full member of the Big 12.
along with byu, ucf, cincinnati and houston, they also had their applications approved by the big 12 presidents.
“good morning. On behalf of my colleagues and the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors, I am delighted to welcome Brigham Young University to the Big 12,” said Big 12 Chairman of the Board and President of Texas Tech University Lawrence schovanic.
On September 10, 2021, the #byu administrators gathered in room c301 of the smoot building awaiting the official call that they were invited to the #big12.
one year later, the optimism and potential of byu’s move to a p5 league remains endless.@kslsports https://t.co/h1vjwseatw pic.twitter.com/a5eyqd49pk
— mitch harper (@mitch_harper) September 8, 2022
It’s been a year since that late summer morning. but even a year later, the achievement remains historic for byu.
when lavell edwards was hired as byu’s head football coach, the idea of byu being in a league with schools like baylor, oklahoma state and texas tech was a pipe dream. now it is a reality. That reality also includes Texas and Oklahoma as league partners for two years. or at least until some buyout is negotiated.
“i like to say we wouldn’t be in the big 12 right now if it wasn’t for coach edwards,” byu athletic director tom holmoe told ksl sports. “Lavell and his wife patti, the spirit of love and compassion and collaborative competitiveness, camaraderie and respect all those factors brought to byu athletics. It started with soccer and expanded. everyone there understands that. many of our coaches and student-athletes in their sports caught fire. so for the last 40 years, we’ve been building up to this point. and now we are here. so I think everyone is excited about it.”
preview of the big 12 in them
byu is getting a sneak peek of what the future holds at its new conference venue this weekend. a top 25 soccer match against world no. 9 baylor. highest ranked opponent to become provo since wisconsin in 2017.
#byu coach kalani sitake addresses the media for baylor week:
“very excited to have the opportunity to play baylor. They are the standard in the Big 12, they are the conference champions.” #big12 #byufootball #gocougs
– ksl sports (@kslsports) September 5, 2022
highlights the potential of the new big 12. a league that will cover every television window a typical college football Saturday offers. The Big 12 have hungry fan bases and markets that prioritize college athletics over professional leagues. while they also have athletic departments looking to show that they have more to offer than they have shown, while texas and oklahoma were the league leaders.
Honestly, it fits byu’s DNA quite well. I’m still fighting for respect, but now byu will do it with more resources than ever.
“On the day of the announcement to join the Big 12, I received a text message from someone I knew while in this position. it’s steve young,” vorkink said. “In that text, he said, ‘This is the most important day in the history of byu sports,’ and he was responsible for several really important days.”
our future is bright 🚀
see you in 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟑! #big12 pic.twitter.com/ts6mjw6mvr
— big 12 conference (@big12conference) June 10, 2022
while September 10, 2021 happens to be the most important day in byu sports history. The days leading up to that moment weren’t always easy.
The road to membership in the Big 12 was not easy
byu ad tom holmoe has a motto: “hard is good”.
Based on that motto, there were plenty of good times for Holmoe during Byu’s career with Football Independence.
surreal to see #byu with the big 12 conference. pic.twitter.com/mcl2qdmz5d
— ksl sports (@kslsports) September 10, 2021
Independence was never the ultimate goal for byu. It was always seen as a way to potentially propel byu to a bigger league, like the big 12 conference.
but navigating the challenging waters of major college football was tough.
there was probably no more difficult time than in 2016. the big 12 conference was exploring expansion. It seemed that your time had finally come.
byu made a strong showing at all four seasons in suburban dallas before the big 12 board of directors and bob bowlsby.
the interview, which was one of a dozen universities that made their presentations to the big 12, ultimately did not materialize in membership.
It was a difficult time for byu. when they went back to the drawing board to do everything they could to be in a better position, the next wave of realignment came.
but that interview left an impression on bowlsby. and when texas and oklahoma applied to be members of the sec, byu was the first school in bowlsby’s mind.
“I would say the 2016 process really helped us get into what was a shorter timeframe and didn’t allow for as long and deliberative a process as we went through last time,” Bowlsby told KSL Sports. “And in the end, we didn’t have anyone who had enough votes to join the league. but this time it was a specific approach. byu was the first call I made.”
what did that first call sound like?
“well, we did some research beforehand and had some consultants involved who made some contact. but in the end, it was a phone call,” bowlsby said. “and I heard what I wanted to hear and they heard what they wanted to hear. so we went ahead to start making arrangements.”
bob bowlsby’s tenure as commissioner of the big 12 has come to an end.
He was always excited about #byu’s potential at the @big12conference.#byufootball @kslsports pic.twitter.com/0ukn7i25lt
— mitch harper (@mitch_harper) August 1, 2022
It should come as no surprise that bowlsby’s first call was to byu. the longtime university administrator, now enjoying retirement after decades in the business, said during his last 12 big spring meetings, “i think byu is – with the exception of perhaps notre dame – they have the largest world-class reach of any university in the country and they have been a traditional power, perennially playing in the top 25 in football.”
changes since byu received an invitation to the big 12 conference
since byu was invited to the big 12 conference last year, a lot has changed in the big 12 and in collegiate athletics nationally.
usc and ucla head to the big ten conference. bowlsby is now retired. Replacing him is former Roc Nation coo Brett Yorkmark. yorkmark has been tasked with obtaining a media rights package that continues to allow the big 12 to operate at a high level, so that everyone in the league can continue to pay the bills.
Yormark is bringing an aggressive mindset to the Big 12, with the potential goal of further westward expansion in the future.
oh, there’s also a 12-team college football playoff on the horizon.
as the national landscape changes, byu continues to celebrate the move to the big 12 conference. it is by far the best league byu has ever been affiliated with.
but byu doesn’t seem to be sitting on his hands feeling like they made it. there is a lot more work to be done between now and July 1, 2023, when byu is in league battles every night in the big 12. A “level up” theme has been something Holmoe wants to see outside of the athletic department from him.
#byu ad tom holmoe wants everyone associated with byu to bring the “energy” in the #big12 era.@kslsports @kslnewsradio
➡️: https://t.co/ldkoeuwjkr pic.twitter.com/hnbiebjrr0
— mitch harper (@mitch_harper) June 3, 2022
“It’s going to take a lot of energy,” Holmoe said. “As I speak to fans, boosters, sponsors, athletes, students, alumni, and Cougar Nation at large, the key is energy. everyone has to bring it. and I’ve talked about everyone leveling up; Me, our managers, our faculty, past students, new students coming in as freshmen, everyone needs to bring the energy because this level of play is going to be so much more intense. it will be much more exciting, not to detract from what we have done in the past, but it will be week after week with a standard that will be different from what most people in Provo are used to.” /p>
leveling up has been a major focus on kalani sitake’s soccer program since the big 12 invitation came through last september.
“I think when we get the invite, looking at the teams at the conference, what can we do with our resources and make sure we can match? that’s probably the place i would go first,” sitake said.
Throughout the offseason, prior to the 2022 soccer season, byu announced hires for soccer support staff that included nutritionists, sports performance specialists, recruiting, and other areas.
“We had a group of people on the support staff that were a bit spread out, and we’re doing a lot of different things,” sitake said. “Now the boys are mastering their craft. And whether it’s recruiting or player personnel, whatever it is, he’s seeing it work very cohesively.”
byu now hopes cohesion will lead to success on all playing fields in the big 12. it’s going to be a challenge. The challenges have already been evident with a 10-win BYU football team suffering a two-touchdown loss to Baylor last year in Waco. they will try to get their revenge on saturday night in front of a nearly packed crowd with commissioner yorkmark and his 12 great employees on hand to witness it in person.
But the most challenging piece of all of this might have been winning a seat at the Big 12 table. now they have it, and in byu’s future, it seems to be alone from here.
mitch harper is a byu expert for kslsports.com and host of the cougar tracks podcast (subscribe) and cougar sports saturday ( Sat 12-3pm) on KSL NewsRadio. follow him on twitter: @mitch_harper.