CGN Roundtable: On BYU Joining the Big 12

The Big 12 announced last Friday it extended formal invitations to BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to join the conference starting with the 2023-24 athletic year. The news comes just about a month after Oklahoma and Texas announced their intention to leave the Big 12 for the SEC in 2025-26. In this week’s roundtable we’re discussing our thoughts on how the decision impacts gymnastics.

What are your thoughts on BYU joining the Big 12? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

To kick things off, what was your initial reaction to the news?

Elizabeth: I was a bit worried about gymnastics in the Big 12, so my initial reaction was excitement (but I had a lot of other emotions after that initial one).

Mary Emma: Excitement that Big 12 gymnastics won’t end after Oklahoma joins the SEC. We finally are going to get ACC gymnastics, so it would be a shame to lose the Big 12 after that.  

Tavia: What the heck?! I’m so glad that Big 12 gymnastics lives to see another day!

Emily M: Huh?? I’m not surprised the Big 12 is realigning after the departures for the SEC, but I would not have guessed BYU would get a nod. It’s just not that often you see such an explicitly religious school in a power five conference, but I guess TCU is already in the Big 12, so it’s not a total anomaly. 

Brandis: With two conference members leaving, I assumed the Big 12 would try to expand and maintain its current status as a power five conference (sorry gymnerds for the football reference) among all sports. Since BYU is competitive in many sports, including gymnastics, I imagined it would be a top contender to join and was excited the Big 12 leaders thought the same way.

In terms of competitiveness within the conference, what do you think BYU will add to the Big 12?

Elizabeth: I think it’ll be fun to have another consistent top 20 team in the conference. This has been one of the most lopsided conferences for years, but with Denver winning in 2021 and Oklahaoma departing, I think it’s the perfect opportunity for a bit more competitiveness to enter the conversation. Plus, BYU has been knocking on the door for years, and this may be just what it needs to take the next step.

Mary Emma: BYU will definitely fit right in with the Big 12. It will give Denver competition after Oklahoma leaves and make the Big 12 championship much more interesting. It’s been the Oklahoma show for so long and was looking like it would just become the Denver show after Oklahoma leaves, but now with BYU joining, it will make the competition exciting again.

Tavia: BYU has already become more competitive over the last few years, and I think this move will only expedite the process of continued improvement. As Iowa State, Denver and West Virginia continue to step up their game, BYU will have to follow suit. Competing with Oklahoma before its transition to the SEC will also be a huge energy boost to the Cougars’ program. 

Emily M: BYU has been dominant in the MRGC recently and in the top 20 the past four seasons. Maybe regular competition with Denver will help it set its sights even higher. It will definitely provide Iowa State and West Virginia with some rankings-neighbor competition, which I think is good. The conference had really been Denver and Oklahoma plus Iowa State and West Virginia for a while, and the Sooners leaving plus the Cougars joining could really make all four more competitive, as the other editors have mentioned.

Brandis: As a frequent top-20 team, BYU will immediately help elevate the competitiveness in the conference and push the likes of Denver, Iowa State and West Virginia. Also, with BYU now joining in-state rival Utah as a power five school, I think we may also see the Cougars start to bring in higher-level recruits and potentially make a case to be the star of the conference over the next four or five seasons.

The move brings up a lot of questions about how the existing gymnastics conferences will look when all these changes finally take place in a couple years. What do you think or hope will happen?

Elizabeth: Woof. It’s tricky because the Big 12 and MPSF are both conferences that exist outside of gymnastics, so it’s not as simple as just rearranging things however they want. I think I’d prefer the MPSF and MRGC to join forces rather than see more associate members in the Big 12. Not only would this leave space for existing Big 12 teams to add gymnastics (hint hint), but it might allow the MPSF to increase its level of competitiveness to that of our remaining three MRGC teams. Plus, eight teams is a great amount for a conference (two four-team sessions! no byes!).

Mary Emma: I’m hoping the MRGC and MPSF will look at what the ECAC-I and ECAC-II recently did and join forces to create a brand new conference. Like Elizabeth said, it would help the current MPSF teams become more nationally competitive. Look at how much Temple improved in 2021 just by joining a more competitive conference. I could see a team like UC Davis following the same trajectory if it joined the MRGC. 

Emily M: Well now we have Boise State, Utah State and Southern Utah to sort out, don’t we? Boise and Utah State are in the Mountain West and Southern Utah is in the Big Sky but is moving to the Western Athletic for 2022, so really no help from any of their home conferences. I can’t imagine those entire athletic programs will be invited to a power five during this realignment. I like Elizabeth and Mary Emma’s suggestion. For what it’s worth, Air Force and San Jose State are Mountain West teams, so Mountain West should really just sponsor gymnastics already. Or, another Mountain West/Western Athletic team could add gym and get us back to four in the MRGC (my favorite option). My dream additions would be: Hawaii, UNLV or Colorado State.

If Oklahoma’s move to the SEC doesn’t happen sooner than 2025-26 like some suspect, there will be two seasons of “limbo” where the Sooners are still in the Big 12 after BYU becomes a new member. What are your thoughts?

Elizabeth: I actually hope the limbo years happen. Yeah, a five-team conference championship isn’t ideal, but it would make things more interesting at the very least. Even if you don’t factor in Iowa State and West Virginia, BYU, Denver and Oklahoma would provide such a fun race for the title, and those regular season matchups would be exciting too.

Mary Emma: I think it would be fun to see Oklahoma, Denver and BYU be able to compete for the championship. With Denver upsetting Oklahoma this year, the Big 12 title is no longer just the Oklahoma show, and throwing BYU in the mix as well has the potential for an exciting meet. 

Tavia: I’m so excited about this. The Big 12 just got that much more interesting! Last year Denver snuck in and broke Oklahoma’s Big 12 championship winning streak. Who’s to say that BYU couldn’t step up to the challenge and get a Big 12 conference win of its own? 

Emily M: The whole 2025-26 situation is annoying; it’s just so far out. I’m sure it has to do with TV deals and contracts, but ugh. Let’s get on with it! It would be fun for BYU to get a few years of that very high level competition, though.

Brandis: Like my fellow editors, I would be stoked to see Oklahoma remain in the Big 12 for a few extra years, especially since Denver showed us last year how competitive the conference can be. However, with the Sooners’ relevance in football and them publicly stating they’re moving in large part to tap into the SEC recruiting pipeline, I unfortunately doubt we see any overlap between Oklahoma and BYU.

There’s also the case of broadcasting. BYU currently hosts all home meets on BYUtv while all but OU and UT have a Big 12 streaming deal with ESPN. What’s your preference when BYU makes the leap for the 2024 season?

Elizabeth: I actually love the BYU TV broadcasts because the commentary is great, the production value is solid and it’s all free. However, the exposure ESPN can give the sport and BYU can only be seen as a good thing. Maybe ESPN can broadcast on its platforms and add in its fun protractors and stuff while still keeping our favorite BYU commentators. Plus, if it becomes a more formal arrangement with the Big 12 and ESPN with gymnastics, CAN DENVER PLEASE START USING IT TOO AND NOT A PAID STREAM THAT NO ONE CAN WATCH?!

Mary Emma: I really like what BYUtv does with its gymnastics broadcasts. Like Elizabeth said, they are free, great quality and have really good commentators. The Big 12 is a frustrating conference to follow, with three of its four current teams having most meets either behind a paywall or on a channel that almost no one gets. For accessibility reasons, I hope the meets stay on BYUtv. However, if ESPN starts streaming more gymnastics meets, I wouldn’t mind seeing some BYU meets there, too.

Emily M: BYUtv is one of the best broadcast situations of any team anywhere, and if it ends, I will be very upset.

BYU isn’t alone in its transition to the Big 12 across all sports, as it’ll be joined by Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. Choose one current Big 12 team and one of the three new members that you’d most like to see add gymnastics in the future.

Elizabeth: I actually want to see UCF add a team. The black and gold school colors would make for great leos, and a central Florida team would be awesome for a little in-state Florida rivalry (imagine if Miami or Florida State added a team too!). As for existing Big 12 teams, I’d like TCU for the Texas aspect or one of the Kansas schools for the geography.

Mary Emma: Tough call between UCF and Houston, but I’m going to say Houston because of the need for a DI team in Texas. As for the current Big 12 teams, I think Kansas adding a team would be cool. The campus is relatively close to Kansas City, and with all the gymnastics clubs there I think it would draw interest. 

Emily M: Well of the new teams I have to pick Houston after all the work Haley Poinsette did to try to start a team there a few years back. Of current members, I like Kansas for the club connection Mary Emma pointed out, or Oklahoma State for the Oklahoma rivalry. Or TCU because I want to see a horned frog on a leo. I was supposed to pick just one, but can we have all three? 

Brandis: The state of Texas produces countless gymnastics stars, so I would ideally like to see Houston and TCU add college gymnastics programs. Both are located in metro areas known for great club programs to recruit gymnasts from, and we’d get a new in-state rivalry meet to watch every year.

What questions do you still have about the move that you didn’t already discuss above?

Elizabeth: I am mainly interested to see what changes for BYU with it now being in a big girl conference. The school already has a lot of money, but the increased exposure and competitiveness can’t hurt either.

Mary Emma: I’m interested to see how far BYU can move up in the rankings by joining a power five conference. More competition and more money will hopefully be able to take the team to the next level.

Emily M: Big conferences come with big money, but also big rules due to broadcast deals. It’ll be fascinating to see how the athletic department changes to align itself with its new conference after being independent for so long. 

READ THIS NEXT: Big 12 Conference Extends Invitation to BYU

Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Mary Emma Burton, Tavia Smith, Emily Minehart, Brandis Heffner

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