Here’s something we haven’t heard in a while at BYU: The Cougars have an open date on their non-conference schedule.
After spending the last four months feverishly trying to cut through an overloaded schedule ahead of their move to the Big 12, BYU lost its 2023 season opener on Thursday. The Tennessee Volunteers announced they would instead face Virginia in Nashville to start the 2023 season rather than travel to Provo to play BYU.
“Pivoting to face a big-name non-conference opponent in Nashville made sense for several reasons,” Tennessee vice-chancellor/athletic director Danny White said in a statement. “It’s a more accessible game for our fan base. I expect we’ll have a much bigger fan contingent in Nashville than we could have made it to Utah. Our fans have also heard about the importance of finding new revenue to increase our operating budget, and playing Virginia at Nissan Stadium is an opportunity for a net-positive game.
However, these positive net incomes will come at a price. Tennessee reportedly owes BYU $2 million as a cancellation penalty.
There’s a lot to unpack about Tennessee scrapping its series comeback game with BYU after the Cougars beat the Vols in Knoxville in 2019. But, for now, the most interesting part is the opening date. of BYU’s 2023 schedule — especially after the Cougars canceled the Utah State Series last week to make way for the Vols. Now all that’s left is Arkansas on the road and southern Utah at home. BYU will quickly need to fill a third non-conference game.
That’s pretty rare territory, at least in recent days, for BYU, which remains overscheduled in 2024, 2026 and 2028. Now, the Cougars can theoretically have some flexibility.
BYU will likely want to fill the Tennessee void with another home game against a major opponent. So far, BYU has followed the typical Power Five scheduling pattern of filling the non-conference roster with multiple non-conference Power Five opponents and an FCS school. This gives teams the most viable path to the college football playoffs in the Big 12.
It’s possible that BYU will try to make progress in a game against a Power Five opponent from one of its crowded seasons. It’s hard to push a game this late in the schedule, but if it could happen, it might ease the stress a bit.
For example, in 2026, BYU still has five P5 teams on the non-conference schedule. At most he will only be able to play two that year. Then again in 2028, BYU has four planned P5 opponents. If any of those programs have an open date or can arrange to push their game with BYU forward to 2023, that could give BYU the option not to cancel the reunion altogether.
Of course, scheduling in college football is a mix of contracts and determining open dates years in advance. It will be difficult. But it’s also not that easy for BYU to bring back games it canceled in 2023 now that it has an open date. Or find a new opponent who is not currently on the schedule.
Utah State, for example, which has just announced that it will not play BYU in 2023, has already filled its appointment with the Cougars and will now play Iowa. Other teams that BYU took off the schedule — like UNLV and Rice — also filled their schedules.
So, postponing a future squad to 2023 might be an option right now. And while BYU prioritized Tennessee in Provo, the game’s cancellation gives it rare flexibility for the first time since moving to the Big 12.