BYU’s move to the Big 12 in 2023 could be problematic for the Pac-12

Brigham Young made life miserable for the Pac-12 last season, winning all five head-to-head matchups. The Cougars could cause just as much trouble in future years by not facing the conference at all.

The Pac-12 has 15 games under contract with BYU starting in the 2023 season, when the Cougars cease to be an Independent and join the Big 12.

Some of the matchups — and perhaps many — are at risk of being canceled as BYU makes room on its schedule for conference games in its new home.

The Big 12 has not determined whether it will play eight league games or nine once it adds BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF. (The Cougars begin play in ’23; the others could join that year or in 2024.) And it must plan for the departures of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC starting in 2025, as well.

But either outcome could impact the feasibility of BYU facing Pac-12 opponents in any given year.

“Internally, BYU moving to the Big 12 presents us with significant scheduling issues,” said Merton Hanks, the Pac-12’s senior associate commissioner and chief of football operations.

It’s an issue for several teams over the next decade: Stanford and Utah have six games scheduled against BYU starting in 2023; Arizona has two and USC one.

Legally, the Cougars could walk away from most, if not all of them. According to Pac-12 sources, game contracts with BYU typically include a opt-out clause for the Cougars in the event they join a conference.

All the current contracts were signed prior to BYU’s move to the Big 12 last summer.

One source indicated the potential loss of the Cougars as a frequent opponent is part of the larger discussion on the future of Pac-12 scheduling strategy.

The conference has played a nine-game rotation since the 2006 season but is evaluating the benefits of dropping to eight in order to improve its positioning for the College Football Playoff.

One option for the extra non-conference opponent is a series against the Big Ten, but there’s no guarantee the alliance partner will also drop to eight league games.

The Cougars are an ideal opponent for Pac-12 programs because of their proximity, the quality of the competition and their ability to sell tickets in opposing stadiums.

In some ways, they have played the role of a conference member, all while wanting — but being denied — entry into the league.

(Their flexibility also has provided Stanford and USC with an end-of-season opponent when they don’t host Notre Dame on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.)

The paucity of non-conference options that make sense for the Pac-12 competitively and geographically — the vast majority of Group of Five schools are in the eastern half of the country — would make future scheduling even more difficult if BYU is no longer an option.

“It’s something we have to consider,” a source said.

Games currently under contract with the Cougars, starting in 2023, and their status:

at BYU: 2026
vs. BYU: 2027
Status: Still scheduled

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vs. BYU: 2026, 2028
at BYU: 2025, 2029, 2031, 2035
Status: The Cardinal has “opened lines of communication with BYU as they prepare to join the Big 12,” according to a spokesperson. In addition, Stanford has contacted BYU about the need to reschedule the 2020 game that was lost to COVID.

vs. BYU: 2023
Status: The late November game is unlikely to be played, according to a conference source.

vs: BYU: 2024, 2026, 2028, 2030
at BYU: 2025, 2027
Status: The Utes confirmed the game contracts include an opt-out clause for BYU but said they have not yet been contacted about changes.

Clarity could come within months as the Big 12 maps out its scheduling plans for the two stages of its future existence: before Texas and Oklahoma depart, and after.

“We’ve got subcommittees in several sports that are talking about structure,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told CBS Sports

From afar, the Pac-12 is watching closely.

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