PROVO — BYU's football program has been independent for only a couple of months, but, once again, there's mounting speculation that the Cougars won't remain independent much longer.
The Pac-12 announced Tuesday night that it is not expanding after examining the possibility of inviting Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech of the Big 12. Instead, Oklahoma and Texas are trying to work out their differences and bring stability and a renewed commitment to the dysfunctional league. News out of the volatile Big 12 in recent weeks has involved stories of posturing, leveraging, threatening to leave and threatening to sue.
As part of stabilizing the Big 12, which is expected to lose Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference, the league could expand by one, or perhaps by as many as three.
According to multiple reports, BYU, which is preparing for a Friday contest (6 p.m., MT, ESPN) against Central Florida, is one of the schools that is being targeted by the Big 12.
"Figure on Brigham Young getting an invite for sure," wrote CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd.
The Big 12 board of directors is expected to meet soon to discuss the league's future, including expansion possibilities.
A year ago, the Big 12 watched Colorado bolt to the Big 12 and Nebraska defect to the Big Ten. With the Aggies' expected departure, the league would be left with nine members. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds sits on the Big 12 expansion committee.
"We could do it with nine (schools). I'm a 10-team guy," Dodds told USA Today. "If the majority want to go to 12, we're amenable to that, but … I think the majority will stay with 10. I've not had conversations with everybody."
The Associated Press reported that Dodds "acknowledged the league is considering BYU as the 10th member once Texas A&M leaves in 2012," adding that "while some league members might want to push the number back up to 12, Dodds said he considers a 10-team league 'perfect.'"
ESPN.com's Andy Katz wrote that the three "likely candidates" are BYU, and Big East schools Louisville and West Virginia. "Those were three of the five schools that the Big 12 athletic directors were charged to call when Texas A&M announced it was leaving," Katz wrote.
Meanwhile, the Tulsa World reported that Oklahoma president David Boren "would agree to a 10-team Big 12 that included BYU, TCU or Air Force, or a 12-team league that included all three."
According to the Austin American-Statesman, "Pittsburgh and Notre Dame had been prime targets for the Big 12 — before the former announced last weekend that it would join the Atlantic Coast Conference and the latter maintained its plan to remain a football independent. Big 12 sources have mentioned Brigham Young, Louisville, Cincinnati, TCU and West Virginia as other possible schools to approach."
"Brigham Young has been among the Big 12's top choices for expansion, along with Pittsburgh and Arkansas. The Panthers and Razorbacks are off the table, but BYU remains firmly in play," wrote Jake Trotter of SoonerNation. "Despite the Big 12's infighting, BYU has several reasons for joining the conference. BYU's football independence has attractive qualities, but downsides, too. Despite games against Texas, TCU and Ole Miss, the Cougars' overall schedule is pedestrian. BYU also has little chance to play in a decent bowl and no chance for a BCS bowl. Meanwhile, BYU's archrival, Utah, plays a Pac-12 schedule and has better bowl options. None of this sits well in Provo, and it could ultimately persuade BYU to jump to the Big 12."
For BYU, joining the Big 12 would provide coveted automatic qualifying BCS status.
So what are BYU officials saying publicly about the reports and speculation? Nothing.
School officials remain conspicuously silent on the topic, explaining that they stand by the same statement the school issued about conference realignment two weeks ago, the last time there was intense scrutiny about a potential move by BYU to the Big 12:
"There is much speculation right now regarding conference affiliation that seems to change by the hour. 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 will have no further comment."
In response to a request for an interview Wednesday with athletic director Tom Holmoe, associate athletic director of communications Duff Tittle wrote in an email to the Deseret News, "Nothing has changed in the world of speculation, rumor, gossip, conjecture, guesswork (pick a word) since we provided our statement to the media a couple weeks ago."
In mid-August, when reports of Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 came to light, Holmoe made himself available for media interviews, saying his school had not been contacted by the Big 12. But in recent weeks, Holmoe has declined interview requests on the topic of conference realignment.
Meanwhile, Texas and Oklahoma officials are saying they are committed to ensure the Big 12's survival. The Associated Press reported that the two schools "are expected to meet in the next few days to negotiate an agreement to keep the universities in the league for at least the next five years."
Oklahoma is seeking some concessions from Texas and the Big 12, particularly in terms of the way the Longhorn Network is operated. The Sooners want fundamental change in the league, calling for new leadership in the Big 12 — specifically, the firing of commissioner Dan Beebe.
Cougars on the air
Central Florida (2-1) at BYU (1-2)
Friday, 6 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM