In case you missed it, the Big 12 announced on Tuesday afternoon that they have unanimously agreed to explore conference expansion. What does that mean? It means the Big 12 will begin vetting universities they think my be a good fit as additions to the conference. One of the schools whose name is rumored to be in contention is BYU. For our rival school down south, this is exciting news. Since BYU made the decision to go independent, they have been looking for a Power 5 conference to take them in. This news of possible Big 12 expansion ignites hope in our rivals that they too could join a P5 conference and be on equal footing with Utah moving forward. The question for Utah, who is already in the Pac-12 conference, is would another in-state school such as BYU be good for Utah or bad?
Before we get too far along in speculation, let's remember there is a long list of schools wishing to gain entrance into the Big 12, namely Houston, UCF, Cincinnati, South Florida, Memphis, Colorado State, Boise State, Temple and of course BYU among others. None of these teams is a shoo-in to join the conference, though Cincinnati seems to have the most chatter around it. Furthermore the Big 12 is only exploring expansion at this time and has not officially announced plans to expand, though realistically it is all but certain they will expand out of necessity to keep up with the other conferences.
Whether or not BYU is a viable candidate for the Big 12 is a different debate than we are having today (Y fans certainly seem to think they are). Say everything played out in the exact way needed for the Cougars to actually gain entrance into the Big 12. Would this be beneficial for Utah?
Opinions seem to be split among Utah fans. Some think this would be great for football in the state of Utah and would provide beneficial exposure for all the Utah universities including the University of Utah ( a rising tide lifts all boats?) Others think this would be a negative thing and would take away any advantage Utah has built up over the past few years.
Having two universities with Power 5 football programs less than an hour apart is pretty rare, especially out west. The rivalry in the state is already unique and having the game on a scale of Pac-12 vs. Big 12 showdown would only up the intensity. Not only would school pride be at stake, but conference pride would come into play. Assuming the schools agreed to resume the rivalry on an every year basis, both schools would be representing their conferences in a regional showdown every year. This factor could help push the Holy War more into the national eye and garner the national attention the rivalry has deserved. As a result, Utah would gain more exposure not just in the Pac-12 footprint, but also in the Big-12 footprint, which could help in building a broader recruiting base.
More attention and exposure for a football program is always a good thing, however not everyone is a fan of the rivalry. It has been argued the rivalry has gotten out of hand lately (see Larry K canceling 2016's basketball game). Adding more hype and a bigger profile to the game would not help in tempering the enthusiasm each side shows when the two schools get together. On top of that, it could be argued any additional exposure Utah would receive would be minimal.
Utah already plays in big games every year as a member of the Pac-12 against national brand programs like USC and Oregon. Part of the fun of joining the Pac-12 was the opportunity to play new high profile programs that would not have bothered coming to Utah in years past, such as Michigan last season. If BYU were to be admitted to the Big 12, there is a decent chance they would be our "A" non-conference game every year reducing the possibility of scheduling other less familiar high profile opponents.
The other big drawback for Utah would be the recruiting advantage Utah currently enjoys in state and in the surrounding regions. Utah is the only Power 5 school in the region, from Idaho down to Vegas, from the Sierras to the Rockies, if a kid living in the area wants to play for a Power 5 school, Utah is his closest option. Look no further than last season's breakout star Britain Covey who came from a BYU family. Covey said during recruiting that Utah's Pac-12 membership played a large factor in why he chose Utah. If BYU all of a sudden had the same advantage, Utah would lose a valuable recruiting edge. Would every highly sought after recruit all of a sudden choose BYU? Not at all, but some would. As it stands now Utah is in the best position to scoop up the most talented players in the state of Utah. A Big 12 membership for BYU would eliminate that advantage.
There is more than just BYU to fend off once Big 12 teams start visiting the state regularly. Recruiting the state of Utah has increased greatly since Utah joined the Pac-12. No longer do talented preps slide by under the radar in the state of Utah. With Pac-12 teams visiting every year, kids in the state are on the Pac-12 recruiting radar. Adding in the Big 12 would result in the same process. Now instead of competing mostly against other in state schools and Pac-12 schools for recruits, Utah would have to fend off Big-12 schools like Texas and Oklahoma. Again it wouldn't be the end of the world, but just another angle for the coaching staff to defend.
Nothing is set in stone and it remains to be seen if the Big 12 will expand and if so who they will add. But if our rivals were added to a major conference, I would argue it would not benefit Utah football overall. There would be both positives and negatives. It would be a great thing for football in the state of Utah as a whole, but for the Utah program itself, there would be more negatives than positives. For now Utah will continue to enjoy the benefits that come with being the only Power 5 program in the state of Utah.