BYU 1-on-1: Positive, negative forces affect conference realignment

Aug 11, 2023 Daily Herald sports writers Darnell Dickson and Jared Lloyd address five of the big questions facing BYU athletics this week: 1. After a crazy week in conference realignment, the Big 12 added Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State beginning in 2024. How should BYU fans feel about it? DICKSON: Cougar supporters have certainly been on the outside looking in for many years when it comes to college football, so seeing their Pac-12 brethren (especially Utah) squirm a bit was probably really satisfying.

Eventually, those four teams pushed for Big 12 membership, Utah and Arizona State most reluctantly. The hubris and pride of the fans and administration in those programs is a bit puzzling considering their conference just fell apart. In terms of actual football, getting the BYU-Utah rivalry back will add some spice to your life.

It’s also a good deal to have three other teams in the region to play. Travel in the Big 12 was going to be a beast, and still will for most of the Olympic sports teams. I think Cougar fans will develop some good rivalry feels with both Arizona and Arizona State.

Both of those schools are within reasonable travel distance for BYU fans and that’s a good thing. LLOYD: Clearly the biggest benefit is to the non-football Cougar teams, who go from having zero conference opponents within 700 miles to having four. Having four league road games that have much more reasonable travel times will make an enormous difference to basketball, soccer, baseball, softball and volleyball players.

I know some BYU fans wanted to rub Utah’s scrambling to find a new home in the faces of the Utes, in retribution for the last decade of Utah smugness for being in the Pac-12 while the Cougars weren’t. Neither of those are the best of emotions, but it’s human nature. The reality is that both fan bases will get over it and get used to being back together, with all the angst and euphoria that comes with a real rivalry.

It will be a treat to once again have the buildup to the BYU-Utah game come late in the season with more on the line. 2. There are still moves to be made in other conferences as the remaining Pac-4 (Stanford, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State) attempts to salvage itself.

Is all this movement a net positive for college sports, a net neutral or a net negative? LLOYD: I’m going to call it a net neutral and here’s why: I don’t like how traditions, history and passion have been trampled in the greed stampede to get more money, but on the flip side the door is opening wider for more teams to have the chance to win a football championship. The negatives of losing great regional matchups and forcing Olympic sports teams to travel absurd distances can’t be ignored. It’s bad for the athletes and bad for college sports in general.

But conferences have always been just associations of schools who figured they were stronger together than they were separately. Conference affiliation changes have been a consistent element throughout the history of college athletics as needs and concerns have evolved, so this is nothing new. And, like it or not, football is the most popular sport.

That’s why the lack of access to a true national championship has been so ridiculous. Thanks to realignment and the expansion of the College Football Playoff, we are getting close to the point where every team can dream of winning it all, not just the elite few. Will Cinderella actually ever win a title? Maybe, maybe not.

But at least teams from across the country can see a path to getting there. DICKSON: Maybe I’m just a grouchy old man, but I like some order to my college football. The last two weeks have been nothing but chaos.

It’s a shame that the Pac-12 got gutted, though it was mostly their own doing. I realize that nothing can ever stay the same but I’m not convinced all of this movement is good for college sports as a whole. Most of the decisions were made out of self-preservation, not for the greater good.

While it appears to be a good short-term decision, I can’t help but think that in the long run there will be a net negative effect on college sports. I know that I won’t be able to enjoy it the same way, especially the offseason. Once the games start, maybe it’ll be OK.

3. What BYU football position group has impressed you the most in the first couple of weeks of fall camp? DICKSON: I am really liking the depth of the offensive line. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said the line was one of the biggest questions he had for fall camp.

How would they come together? Pretty well, so far. O-line coach Daryl Funk said he’s got two first teams, including Connor Pay and Utah transfer Paul Maile switching off between guard and tackle. The two tackles (Kingsley Suamataia and Caleb Entienne) both have NFL potential.

We know this group will really be tested with a stretch of 10 straight games against P5 competition (can we still use the term P5 with the Pac-12 dying?). BYU’s success in 2023 is directly tied to the health and effectiveness of the offensive line. LLOYD: I’ve been watching the Cougar secondary when we’ve had the chance to watch practice, since that to me is the unit that has to shine brightest in the new BYU defense.

After all, blitzing a lot of guys will be disastrous if the coverage is poor. And the cornerback unit lost a trio of its top guys from last year, meaning there isn’t a ton of experience coming back. That also means the opportunities for newcomers to step up was there.

It’s been a decent showing, which is encouraging. I think the safety spot is in good hands with Malik Moore, Micah Harper and Talan Alfrey leading the way. I’ve seen Jakob Robinson, Eddie Heckard and Dylan Flowers all make some nice plays during the limited window where I’ve got to see them in action, and cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford seems confident in the development.

4. Ques Glover, one of three graduate transfers for the BYU men’s basketball team, has reportedly decided to jump back into the portal after just a few months in Provo. How can Mark Pope and his staff keep this from being a disastrous turn of events? LLOYD: Live by the transfer portal, die by the transfer portal, right? I’ve been skeptical about teams who appear to be banking on transfer-portal players because it seems like they sacrifice cohesion and development in favor of splashy additions.

Glover was such a player and now he’s decided he wants to look elsewhere. How would he have meshed with the rest of the BYU squad in a game situation? We’ll never know. Instead the Cougars have to complete their roster with fewer options at this point.

More importantly, Mark Pope and his staff need to figure out how to get the most out of the guys they have. I’d like to see more loyalty from both coaches and players, since I think those relationships can make an enormous difference in how a team develops and performs. That’s what being a team is all about and something BYU has appeared to lack in recent seasons.

DICKSON: Few details have come out about Glover’s expected departure, though some reports indicate it was NIL-related. Whatever the reason, Glover is a double-digit scorer who definitely would have helped the Cougars this year. But the far greater effect is on future recruiting.

You don’t want a reputation as a school that doesn’t come through with the money for the players, or place that is difficult for transfers to succeed. Essentially, getting paid is the driving force for the transfer portal. Sure, players can talk all they want about playing time, the coaching staff and the culture, but it appears more and more decisions are being made based on NIL.

BYU has to have all their ducks in a row and make sure all the details are understood. The loss of Glover really puts the Cougars in a tough situation heading into their European tour next week with two scholarships open. The coaching staff is going to have to do some really slick work to fill those spots with players who can help BYU in its first Big 12 season.

5. Which team will finish higher in the Big 12 standings this season in their respective sports: BYU women’s soccer or BYU women’s volleyball? DICKSON: Do I have to choose? Really? Both teams are going to be pretty good. I think the Big 12 is maybe a little bit stronger overall in volleyball.

The Cougars are used to running roughshod through the WCC and they will be tested much more often in Big 12 volleyball. Some of those road swings (at defending national champion Texas for back-to-back matches, for instance) are brutal. The league is pretty good in soccer, too, but BYU is playing a monster of a preseason schedule, like always.

The league coaches picked the Cougars to win the Big 12. That says something. So if I have to choose, I would say the BYU women’s soccer will finish higher in the conference standings.

But not by much. I think both teams will be a happy bunch in 2023. LLOYD: As much as I like the team that Heather Olmstead has put together for BYU women’s volleyball this year, I think I have higher expectations for Jennifer Rockwood and the Cougar women’s soccer team.

The main reason for that is simply the comparative level of competition. In women’s volleyball, the Big 12 boasts the defending national champions (Texas) and seven other teams that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In women’s soccer, the league didn’t have anyone make it past the third round (BYU and TCU reached that point) and had just five teams reach the second round.

But both of the Cougar squads have a lot of returning talent and some intriguing newcomers, so they should certainly be shooting for the top regardless of what conference they are in. .

By Darnell Dickson and Jared Lloyd
Filed 08.13.2023

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