Earlier this month, when Big 12 athletic directors were pursuing a possible 10th member to replace Texas A&M, they reached out to Brigham Young University.
But will the Cougars listen again if the phone rings? Would they dismiss being an independent in football and eradicate their West Coast Conference affiliation before spending a full year in the league?
BYU isn't saying boo publicly, only issuing this general statement:
“There is much speculation right now regarding conference affiliation that seems to change by the hour,’’ associate athletic director Duff Tittle said. “Commenting on such conjecture is not productive and creates a distraction for our program. As we enter the 2011-12 athletic season, BYU is focused on the opportunities ahead. We are excited about our relationship with ESPN as a football independent and our affiliation with the West Coast Conference.’’
The university would not comment further and athletic director Tom Holmoe isn’t making any public comments either.
That’s fine. It’s not his decision. Any move by BYU will be made by the school president in conjunction with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The university is adamant that it wants its own network to be successful on a national and global stage. BYUtv has an agreement with the WCC and ESPN that works to its advantage by getting games on television that weren’t available under the previous contract with the Mountain West and Comcast. Not having to share those rights on BYUtv, which is not a tier 1 or tier 2 issue, may sound familiar to Big 12 schools after squawking over the Longhorn Network, a joint venture between Texas and ESPN.
BYUtv probably wouldn’t be an issue for Big 12 membership, but the question is do both parties want each other? That’s still undetermined. The Cougars may want to sit and wait to see if the Big 12 really does stick together for the foreseeable future.
The conflicting reports out of Oklahoma and Missouri on Thursday night make it seem as if there are two differing opinions about the unity of the conference. Oklahoma made it seem as if there was an agreement in place for the schools over the next six years, while Missouri’s news conference indicated there were talks but that nothing was set in stone. In fact, MU's chancellor did not rule out his school moving to another league.
BYU’s hierarchy does like being with like-minded, faith-based universities in the WCC that can understand its mission. The Cougars do seek stability and their new conference does offer it up.
But if the Cougars did want to leave, they wouldn’t get held up by the WCC. The league fully understands that BYU may want to join a major football conference, but the WCC isn’t fretting an imminent departure. The conference is pumping up BYU’s admission with higher-profile members Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s and moved its tournament semifinals away from Sunday for the Cougars.
Bottom line: BYU will take its time surveying the scene. Could the Cougars leave independence and the WCC? Of course. But, as you can see from the interview with commissioner Jamie Zaninovich at the top of this post, no one seems to be overly worried in the WCC offices in San Bruno, Calif.