BYU's future up in the air after Utes' departure

Published: Wednesday, June 16 2010 11:00 p.m. MDT

PROVO ?— Now that Utah is officially leaving the Mountain West Conference for the prestigious and opulent Pac-10, where does that leave BYU? What's next for the Cougars?

Try to make the best of things in its current conference? Lobby for an invitation to an automatic qualifying BCS conference, like the 10-team Big 12? Go independent?

Rondo Fehlberg, who was the Cougars' athletic director from 1995-1999, has dealt with similar questions before. He helped lead BYU's exodus from the failed 16-team Western Athletic Conference and was involved in the creation of a new conference, the Mountain West. During that period, he looked at every imaginable option that would serve the school's best interests.

For now, current BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe isn't talking publicly about Utah's jump to the Pac-10 or the Cougars' long-term future.

Fehlberg understands the challenge the athletic department is facing in light of the conference realignment that has occurred in recent weeks, including the Utes' departure.

"It's going to be a whole new ballgame," Fehlberg said. "I wish we could put the genie back in the bottle. But we can't."

The Cougars will be proactive about their position, Fehlberg said, but within reason.

"There's no question that BYU will always be looking to see what it can do to increase the economic viability of its competitive situation without compromising in any way values which, for BYU, are not negotiable. That's one thing that makes BYU a little bit different. Some things are not negotiable. (Not playing on Sunday) being the most dramatic example."

So what would Fehlberg do if he were sitting in the BYU A.D. chair now?

"I'm sure Tom and his staff are working with the administration to do all of the things I'd think of doing, which would include making sure you communicate as effectively as possible with all of the players in this whole arena. I'd be talking to the Big 12, I'd be making sure that I understood just what their bottom-line numbers are. I'd make sure I understood exactly what I could bring to the table. The fact is, if each piece of the expected 10-piece pie is not larger than a 12-piece pie that BYU could present to them, they're not going to (invite BYU). I would have an awful lot of homework to do, to sit down and figure all of that out."

Back in the mid-1990s, when the Big 12 was formed, BYU was a candidate to become one of its members, but, of course, it didn't happen. The Big 12 has survived recent tumult with two teams, Colorado and Nebraska, departing for other conferences and a handful of schools, like Texas, entertaining overtures to leave. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said Tuesday the conference isn't looking at expansion at this time. But Fehlberg knows that some Big 12 athletic directors and officials would like the league to return to 12 teams in order to maintain two six-team divisions and continue to stage a lucrative conference championship game.

"In every (expansion) scenario I've seen, BYU has been in the discussion," Fehlberg said. "It's a pretty good alternative. There's no better conference for BYU, because, geographically, it's not that far away. They're a much more conservative group of schools than you find in other conferences. There's no question, there's a certain logic to it. Will it happen? I don't know. Would I like to see it happen? Sure."

Some have suggested that BYU should become independent.

"We looked at it. It's not viable. Not even close," Fehlberg said. "Even Notre Dame, with all of its history and all of its strengths, financially and otherwise, couldn't do it. They're only independent in football, and that's sort of a historical accident that they were able to create that situation. I don't think it will ever be duplicated anywhere else. It doesn't make sense. The scheduling complexities would overwhelm you. People who say BYU should go independent are na?e."

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