Mid-Majors No More: BYU, Cincinnati, & Houston Show Out in Their First Power 5 Championship

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 1

March 02nd, 2024 News


Collegiate athletics is undergoing a once-in-a-generation mutation that is redrawing the boundaries and reorienting the way we all think about the sport.

Next year, the “Power 5” will reduce to the “Power 4” with the collapse of the Pac-12 conference, and programs that we’re used to referring to as “mid-majors” are now moving into the higher-profile conferences, where they’re going to receive more attention and more resources.

That includes BYU and Cincinnati, who moved into the Big 12 this season along with Houston. Three schools that were already at the top end of the mid-major world in success and resources, the allure for the Big 12 was mostly in their basketball success as the conference looks to build its new identity after next year’s departure of football superpowers the University of Texas and Oklahoma.

On Thursday, junior transfer Jordan Tiffany became BYU’s first-ever Big 12 champion in swimming when he won the 100 fly in 44.55. The school’s first Big 12 title actually came in the fall, when the women’s cross country program took the league title.

When I saw Tiffany’s time, I started to look up what the fastest 100 butterflies ever were by a mid-major program – and had to catch myself, remembering that they are now in one of the biggest and most powerful conferences in the country, raising the bar on expectations.

And BYU rolled in and made a statement with that swim. They head into the final day of competition mid-pack on the men’s side, 3rd out of 5 teams, just 77-points ahead of TCU – a program that made this same transition a decade ago.

The women from Houston and Cincinnati are making big marks too. Houston sits in 2nd place heading into the last day of competition. A program rebuilt under current Auburn head coach Ryan Wochomurka into one that regularly sent swimmers to NCAAs (one year, they had as many individual women swimmers qualify for NCAAs as Texas), now Tanica Jamison, who has lots of Power 5 experience as an athlete and a coach, now carries that forward into the Big 12.

The Cincinnati Bearcats, meanwhile, have probably seen the biggest initial-bump from this move. They’ve been shattering school records all week (well-documented on the school’s Instagram page). My favorite is the 3:33.89 that they swam in the 400 medley relay on Thursday, which took four and a half seconds off their school record, in a 400 medley relay.

That rise has been led by sophomore Joleigh Crye. An NCAA qualifier last year as a freshman in 59.0, she split 58.37 on the Bearcats’ medley relay and was 3rd in the individual 100 breast in 58.24. She turned a lot of heads in that 100 breast, holding with NCAA title contenders Lydia Jacoby and Anna Elendt through 75 yards before ceding the race a bit at the end (in part to Jacoby’s crazy 14.99 anchor).

The Cincinnati relay of Lily Jones, Joeligh Crye, Grace Gavin, and Jessica Davis, are a young group too, with three sophomores and a senior anchor.

It’s not that mid-major programs can’t produce good results. Swimming and diving has a long history of good swimmers coming out of mid-major programs, especially diving. But moving into the Power 5 creates a new challenge. A good mid-major program that occasionally sends a swimmer to NCAAs is viewed as a “good program.” A Power 5 school that does the same isn’t given the same generous treatment, because of the different expectation, the different level of recruit, the different level of exposure that they receive.

A mid-major that wins a conference title has a “good season.” The same times in the Big 12 or Big Ten or SEC or ACC can get lost in the shuffle.

But here we have three programs, all incidentally led by female head coaches (Shari Skabelund at BYU, Tanica Jamison at Houston, Mandy Commons-DiSalle at Cincinnati), that have risen to the early challenge. None of them are Texas yet, but they’ve all made themselves noticed at a Big 12 Championships that is often not ignored. Once Texas leaves, this Big 12 swimming championship will go from being one of the dullest to one of the most-fun, with a lot of good programs that could compete for the conference title year-in and year-out.

This new world is scary, a lot is going to change. A lot of that change will have winners and losers, positives and negatives, cultural losses and opportunities for new culture. I think in this little corner, the Big 12 Swimming & Diving Championships, the change is going to be a net-positive. Concentrating more programs into a higher-profile conference (that for so long has had only three men’s teams) is a positive. That raises the overall visibility, unearths new opportunities in their former conferences, and just generally improves the quality of the swimming product.

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1 month ago

Grace Gavin is a stud. I recognize her from tik tok

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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