When BYU left the Mountain West and joined the West Coast Conference in 2011, the goal was to become more relevant on a national stage. With that goal came the desire to play big-name schools in Provo—on a regular basis.
The Cougars have achieved that, to a degree, over the last several seasons. Last year saw UMass, Stanford and Utah come to the Marriott Center; the 2013-14 season welcomed Iowa State. The previous two years included visits from Baylor and Washington.
So when BYU announced its regular-season schedule the 2014-15 season on Tuesday, it came as a slight disappointment to Cougar fans. There isn’t a single Power Five opponent that will travel to Provo this winter.
The highest-profile school that BYU will face at the Marriott Center this year is “little brother” Utah State, followed closely by visits from Ohio Valley Conference champion Belmont and down-the-street neighbor Utah Valley.
BYU has its fair share of big-name games at neutral sites or on the road, though. The Cougars travel to Utah on December 2 and Colorado on December 12, and head to Hawai’i over Christmas Break to play in the Diamond Head Classic. They will face Harvard and either Auburn or New Mexico in paradise, and possibly Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Washington State or Hawai’i on Christmas Day.
“I’m very happy with our nonconference schedule,” said head coach Dave Rose (via BYUCougars.com). “We play some very strong teams that will prepare us for the conference season and for postseason play. We’ll be tested, especially with some very difficult games away from home. I’m excited about our team and can’t wait to get started.”
He was right about playing tough teams “away from home.” BYU hasn’t had any issues scheduling high-profile schools on the road. It’s just getting them to come to Provo on a regular basis that brings up problems. Last season, BYU played Hawaii, San Diego State and Purdue at neutral sites. The year before, the Cougs visited Stanford, Utah, UMass and Oregon, and faced Wichita State and Texas in Kansas City.
In its first two seasons in the WCC, BYU played Virginia Tech, Baylor, Florida State, Notre Dame, Iowa State and Wisconsin on the road or at neutral sites.
BYU has done a good job of taking advantage of neutral-site opportunities at nearby EnergySolutions Arena, home of the Utah Jazz. A 45 minute drive from BYU, it provides visiting teams from having to play on BYU’s home floor, but still gives the Cougars the home crowd.
But that doesn’t solve the bigger issue—BYU struggles to draw big-name programs to Provo. It’s something that’s always plagued mid-major programs, but now that BYU is considered to be a Power 5 program by many conferences, it hasn’t changed much.
Most teams wouldn’t like to risk facing a tough team on the road when they can play them at home. That’s when home-and-home or two-for-one deals come into play—but that still consistently puts BYU on the wrong end of the bargain. Virginia Tech recently swindled BYU into playing one game in Blacksburg and the other at a neutral site, while Colorado and Oregon have talked BYU into playing one-game series—at home.
It’s not an issue that only faces the basketball program, though. BYU’s football program is in the same boat.
The football team faces Nebraska, UCLA, Michigan and Mizzou on the road or at neutral sites this season. Last year, they traveled to UConn, Central Florida, Cal and Texas. In previous seasons, they visited Notre Dame and Wisconsin—with no return trip.
Granted, scheduling in college athletics is a tough task, especially as BYU is in between being a Power 5 program and a mid-major. Granted, it is closer to the former, but it doesn’t help much.
Independence was a great move four years ago. It separated BYU from the pack of mid-majors. But it won’t help them for long—especially if the Cougs can’t get the big dogs to make regular trips to Provo.