I will break the tie vote on top and say it is “very important” that BYU join the Big XII.
ESSENTIAL: If BYU doesn’t join the Big XII, then the odds are high that BYU will become irrelevant. The day may come that BYU decision makers will have to seriously question whether to drop to the FCS level or stay a FBS school.
CRITICAL: If BYU doesn’t join the Big XII, then the odds are high that BYU will lose a significant portion of its fan base and struggle for national respect. At the end of the eight-year contract, ESPN will not be interested in signing a new one.
VERY IMPORTANT: If BYU doesn’t join the Big XII, then the odds are high that BYU will have to deal with constant unhappiness among fans and might never play in a BCS bowl or its future equivalent.
IMPORTANT: If BYU doesn’t join the Big XII, then there is a 50/50 chance that long-term independence doesn’t have serious negative side effects. The BYU brand can thrive as either an independent or a Big XII member, but it will be a lot easier in the Big XII.
NOT IMPORTANT: If BYU doesn’t join the Big XII, then the odds are high that the status quo will continue for BYU football. The Cougars will continue to have moderate national respect and ESPN will still find enough value in BYU to sign a new contract after the current eight-year deal expires. Most years, fans will find plenty of reasons to be excited and continue to fill LaVell Edwards Stadium to capacity.
Even against the worst odds possible, BYU can be successful outside the Big XII as long as the Cougars are winning. Winning is the only “essential” in sports. Boise State and TCU have proven this the last decade. If BYU wins at the same rate it did from 1976-85, then conference affiliation won’t matter much to the state of the program.
If BYU isn’t the winningest program in the nation, like it was from 1976-85, then Big XII membership still isn’t “critical.” National respect comes from winning the right games. BYU will have to get over the hump and start beating ranked teams (TCU), name schools (Texas), and continue to win bowl games. If BYU is beating these teams live on ESPN, then ESPN will be more than pleased to continue the partnership. Even as a member of the Big XII, BYU will have to win these types of games to be respected.
With regards to “important” and “not important,” the changing landscape of college football is going a direction that I am not comfortable saying the degree of difficulty to thrive, not just survive, as an independent will be this low. Even Notre Dame, the flag bearer and golden boy of independence, is starting to show some willingness to join a conference.
It is “very important” that BYU join the Big XII. Let’s face it, BYU fans are spoiled, and that includes myself. LaVell Edwards took the program to heights that few programs in the country have known. It is easy to feel that BYU deserves membership in a major conference and to be a player in the BCS. Anything short of that and BYU fans will be disappointed. Assuming the schedules get better, as Tom Holmoe has said, and BYU is winning enough, or winning the right games, it will pacify some of the fan unhappiness.
Bursting the BCS bubble will still be an issue. As it stands now, BYU has the most limited access to the BCS. Even with a four-team, plus one type of scenario, BYU’s chances are still remote. It would take a really, really, really special season for BYU to reach a BCS bowl as an independent. In the Big XII, BYU just has to win the conference championship.
Thank you to everyone who voted. Don’t forget to vote in this week’s poll: “Do you share Tom Holmoe's optimism about the 2013 and 2014 schedules?”
Note: Holmoe’s optimism is: “I think our 2013 and 2014 schedules are good. I say they are better than any schedule BYU has ever played.”