SALT LAKE CITY — Whether it's negotiating for a job, bartering for trinkets in Tijuana or buying a car, there is no better situation than being able to say no and mean it.
Amazing how cooperative a salesperson gets when you say the seven magic words: I can take it or leave it.
Suddenly people get really flexible.
So it is with the BYU Cougars, who just last week became one of the most intriguing teams in college football. Slightly more than a year ago, the Cougars were looking for a landing place. Now they're in a position to negotiate, as another round of musical chairs approaches.
BYU's value stems from the fact the Big 12 is again in upheaval. With news that Texas A&M is planning to join the Southeastern Conference, that would leave the Big 12 with just nine teams. Last year Nebraska and Colorado announced they were leaving. Rumors persist about Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Oklahoma has admitted it is looking at its options.
Hoping to save itself, the Big 12 has reportedly contacted BYU about joining. Whereas the Cougars of the 1990s looked into applying for the prestigious league, now it appears to be the other way around. The mountain has come to Mohammed, er, Brigham.
Flattering, but if I were BYU and the offer came, I'd say thanks but I'm happy being single. Two weeks ago I wouldn't have said that. I thought BYU should accept any offer to move to the security of a big conference. But that was before it became clear the Big 12 could quickly become the Small 5.
Reasons to join a major conference are compelling. Foremost, it would give the Cougars access to automatic BCS bowl bids. It would likely generate more revenue for the Cougars than they have ever earned.
Beyond that, a conference would provide BYU with the bulk of its scheduling for years to come. There's something comforting about not having to sweat it out finding November opponents.
Although BYU expects terrific exposure with its current ESPN deal, it would get widespread attention in the Big 12, too. It would be in a conference that includes such noted basketball programs as Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
All good unless only a handful of teams remain. Then the Big 12 could lose its BCS automatic qualifier status, no matter whom it adds.
It's no secret that BYU has grown fond of independence in football; coach Bronco Mendenhall reiterated that last week. The Cougars can play games when and where they wish and don't have to worry about a conference scheduling football games on Sunday — something the Pac-12 considered, had the NFL lockout stretched into autumn.
In that sense, BYU was made for independence and vice versa. BYU has said winning national titles isn't its main goal, but rather to use football as a missionary tool. (It also thinks it can win a title as an independent, but that's another story.)
Why join a conference that's in danger of collapsing? That's like scoring a discount ticket on the Hindenburg.
If the Big 12 folds, BYU will still have a good chance of being picked up by one of the proposed super-conferences. If the conference survives, BYU will remain in the conversation when the great division between haves and have-nots occurs. It might even be in better position than schools such as Washington State, Iowa State, Rutgers or Vanderbilt.
With BYU's television presence secure, it doesn't need a conference as much as it used to. The Cougars are free to browse without buying. If I were them I'd ride this one out, tempting as an offer may be. I'd borrow a line from Scarlett O'Hara: "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."
Because tomorrow is another day, especially when it comes to conference realignment.
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