Column: Rejoice! The Big 12 era at BYU is upon us

659 days.

For 659 days, we’ve waited, anticipated and felt elated for this.

659 days ago, BYU’s future changed dramatically. Everything was reimagined. Nothing would ever be the same.

Now, 659 days later, the future has arrived.

As the clock struck midnight this morning, BYU officially earned its long-coveted membership status within the Big 12, a treasure first promised on Sept. 10, 2021 when the conference announced its plans to add the Cougars and three other schools to its ranks before the 2023 campaign.

After spending more than a decade wandering the hazy wilderness of football independence and WCC obscurity, BYU has finally reached the promised land of a Power 5 promotion. It was a heck of a journey, but the destination is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in Cougar Town.

Gone are BYU’s days as an outsider within the national power landscape of college sports. BYU’s legitimacy can no longer be questioned. The “Bo Diddley Tech” allegations are behind us.

Late season football games at home will involve a race for the conference title rather than a meaningless exhibition against the likes of Scott Pilgrim State and other FCS punching bags. Basketball road affairs will occur in classic, esteemed facilities instead of WCC high school gymnasiums that fuel hoop nightmares. Cosmo might actually get the love he deserves as America’s top mascot. The Power 5 effect is real!

New foes will emerge and rivalries will form. BYU’s brand, tradition and legacy will both shape and be shaped by its conference surroundings. The Cougars will be ultra-visible on television — and compensated handsomely for it — while a red nemesis up the road languishes in media rights purgatory. “U” hate to see it.

For years, BYU has been discounted for not hailing from a major league. The Pac-12 stiff-armed the Cougars time after time. The Big 12 even rejected BYU initially. It seemed as if the world of college sports was bound to move forward at a pace the Cougars couldn’t keep up with.

So can we get a round of applause for Tom Holmoe?

The man who was originally thrust into his role as athletic director nearly two decades ago in the wake of the department’s darkest hour has now completed his Moses-ian delivery of the Cougars to their rightful new home. The thousands of hours Holmoe spent organizing and reorganizing independent football schedules out of thin air have paid off. Independence was a colossal gamble, of course, but one that brought forth the joy of today.

Let me make this as clear as possible: without BYU’s decision to go independent in football, the Cougars would not be in the Big 12 today. It’s really that simple.

Independence granted Holmoe immense football schedule freedom for the Cougars, with which he took and ran to the hills. BYU traveled all across the country to play new opponents and visit a dozen different NFL stadiums, allowing Cougar Nation to pack the stands and prove to everyone that “the world is our campus.” Independence put the BYU brand in a national spotlight that could not be replicated in any other way.

When COVID-19 brought college football to its knees in 2020, Holmoe wasn’t bound by a conference to determine whether or not the Cougars could compete. He scrambled to give BYU every chance to take the field, where Zach Wilson, Tyler Allgeier and company made Holmoe look like a genius as the Cougars became must see TV. That was never going to happen in the Mountain West.

Well done, thou good and faithful athletic administrator.

But it isn’t just Holmoe who made today’s joy possible. LaVell Edwards turned college football upside down and transformed BYU into a force to be reckoned with during his time on the sidelines. Being able to point to his quarterback factory and 1984 hardware surely didn’t hurt the school’s case for Power 5 inclusion. He embodied everything good about BYU. LaVell deserves an assist for today just as much as anyone.

Kresimir Cosic, Elaine Michaelis, Stan Watts, Virgil Carter, Bobby Clampett and Tina Gunn Robison all helped lay the foundation. Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer all carried a gridiron dynasty. Cory Snyder, Shauna Rohbock, Frank Fredericks, Tiffany Lott-Hogan, Mariliisa Salmi and Danny Ainge all further filled BYU’s trophy cases. Fred Warner, Ashley Hatch and Andy Reid are still making us proud as professionals. Jimmer was, is and always will be Jimmer.

Dale Rex gave his life for our country. Todd Christensen and Sione Veikoso lost their own far too early.

The list could go on and on. Whether on this earth physically or spiritually, there’s a whole cast of Cougars who gave their blood, sweat and tears to this university. They knew their “Y” will be immortalized forever as a result. Joining the Big 12 is because of them.

Today is the result of over a century’s worth of accomplishment, sacrifice, ambition and belief in Provo. It’s an opportunity to be thankful for the past and even more grateful for what’s ahead.

This new era at BYU will see scores of new program legends take flight beneath Y Mountain. New memories will be added to Cougar lore and new opportunities to “go forth to serve” will present themselves. There will surely be bumps in the road ahead, but nothing will outweigh the thrills in store. BYU’s ceiling has never been higher. The potential is exhilarating.

Cougar fans, take it all in today. Party like it’s 1984. The dream became a reality. BYU is finally where it belongs. The good guys won.

May BYU’s “vic-try story” unfold endlessly in the Big 12, allowing for a “trail to fame and glory” unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It’s showtime!

Jackson Payne is the lead columnist for Daily Universe Sports. Follow him on Twitter @jackson5payne.

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