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BYU football headed to Big East?

By Jared Lloyd - Daily Herald - | Nov 16, 2011

For the third time in less than 16 months, rumors are swirling about the future of the BYU football team.

The most recent reports Tuesday indicated that the Cougars are close to a deal with the Big East Conference. The Salt Lake Tribune, citing unnamed sources, reported that an announcement could be made by the end of the week that would involve only football. Other sports would remain in the West Coast Conference.

BYU associate athletic director Duff Tittle released the following statement Tuesday evening, addressing the speculation:

“For months, much has been written and speculated about conference realignment involving BYU. Throughout this process the university has remained consistent in its approach — dealing directly and privately with appropriate individuals and organizations and not commenting on day-to-day conjecture. Nothing has changed in our approach.”

The Big East Conference had no official comment regarding a possible alliance.

After football practice on Tuesday, Cougar head football coach Bronco Mendenhall said he still wasn’t aware of any update on the situation between the school and the conference.

“I haven’t heard a thing,” he said. “From what I said the last time I was asked, that’s the latest that I know. There’s been no new word to me.”

On Monday, Mendenhall had said in his weekly press conference that he wasn’t aware of any further talks with the Big East, but admitted that he had only asked to be included when there were important things that he needed to know.

Mendenhall added Tuesday evening that it was hard to say whether he would rather be in the Big East or continue as an independent program.

“I don’t know enough details,” he said. “We’re just finishing Year No. 1 and it’s hard to know who’s in the Big East and what the fine print would be. I’d rather not say until I know all the details — if that even is a possibility.”

Fans initially seemed less enthusiastic about the news than they had been about past rumors.

That might be due to reports earlier this year that BYU would join the Big 12. That didn’t happen, and many seemed to be waiting to get their hopes up until they got official confirmation.

Others on social media Web sites expressed doubts about whether joining the Big East would be the best choice for the Cougar football program.

According to various reports, Central Florida, SMU and Houston are all ready to join the Big East in all sports, while Air Force and Boise State are waiting to better understand what would be involved in the creation of a western division in the conference.

The conference has been decimated by the defections of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and of West Virginia and TCU to the Big 12, leaving it searching for football teams. The probable goal is 12 teams, with two six-team divisions and a league championship game to determine who would get the automatic BCS berth.

Mendenhall started a stir in a press conference on Nov. 7 when he confirmed that there had been talks between the university and the conference.

“There is a push and there are conversations that are in place for the Big East to convince or to have BYU join that conference,” he said then. “I trust our athletic director and President Samuelson to deal with all of that. I have been informed along the way. At some point there will be a decision with what our intentions will be.

“I don’t know how fast, nor do I think a timeframe is relevant at this point. Certainly there are plenty of questions on our part that are in place but with the landscape changing, the main benefit I can see on a short term scale would be inclusion to the BCS system. That is up in two years, and whether the Big East can hold that spot with the new teams going in, my guess would be yes. I can’t speak as to what we are going to do other than just to verify we have been approached. I wasn’t involved in anything else.”

One of the big obstacles for BYU football, as officials here have been approached about joining a conference, has been the television deal with ESPN and the program’s own BYUtv arrangements that the Cougars have in place.

Since many conferences control television rights for individual schools — as the Mountain West Conference did for the past few years — those issues would have to be resolved before a final confirmation could be made.

While BYU fans and the school administration are both heavily invested in exploring and speculating about conference affiliation, the Cougar football team says it feels insulated from those elements.

“People ask me so many questions about what’s going on and I feel like I’m in a bulletproof room,” said BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. “I don’t know anything that’s going on and it’s great. We don’t care. We just want to win and play well.”

Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at jlloyd@heraldextra.com or at 801-344-2555. Follow him on Twitter @JaredrLloyd

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