BYU football: Cougars invited to join Big East, but have not accepted invitation — yet

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 15 2011 7:00 p.m. MST

PROVO — For weeks, there have been discussions between BYU and the Big East Conference about the Cougars possibly dropping their independent status in football to join that league.

It appears those talks are getting more serious.

BYU has been invited to join the Big East as a football-only member, but, for now, BYU has not accepted the invitation, according to a Washington, D.C. columnist.

The Washington Examiner's Jim Williams, whose expertise is sports business and media, has talked to numerous sources on the East Coast that have told him that an invitation has been extended and that BYU officials are in favor of a move to the Big East.

BYU "has a conference that desperately wants them for all of the right reasons and have given them every indication that they will acquiesce to their expectations," Williams told the Deseret News. "But is that enough to get them to get their football program to leave independent status? I don't think anybody knows at this point in time.

"At the end of the day, the Big East has done everything to accommodate whatever it is that BYU wanted," Williams added. "But it's really going to be up to the (BYU's) Board of Trustees as to whether or not that's what they want. No matter how well you charm them, or how well you give them whatever they want, it really comes down to whether or not the Board of Trustees feels this is in the best long-term interest of the university. My understanding is that BYU is willing to accept an invitation. It was told to me that if it were up to (athletic director Tom Holmoe) and (President Cecil O. Samuelson), they would be in. But it's not. It really is up to whether the Board of Trustees give them the okay."

The Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday morning that BYU is moving closer to becoming a member of the Big East and ESPN.com reported likewise.

After practice Tuesday night, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said he hadn't heard anything new about his team jumping to the Big East. Asked if it's something he would like to see happen, he replied, "Hard to say. I don't know enough details. We're just finishing year one (of independence). It's hard to know, No. 1, who's in the Big East and what the small and fine print is. So I'd rather not say until I know all of the details, if that even is an opportunity."

In 2010, BYU's Board of Trustees signed off on BYU going independent in football and moving most of its other sports to the West Coast Conference.

A little more than one week ago, Mendenhall confirmed and acknowledged that "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."

Mendenhall also expressed his desire for the football program to have automatic qualifying BCS access. The Big East's BCS AQ status is guaranteed through the 2013 season.

If BYU were to join the Big East, it likely would not begin competing in that league until 2013.

When asked for a response Tuesday to reports of BYU joining the Big East, associate athletic director Duff Tittle issued a statement. "For months, much has been written and speculated about conference realignment involving BYU," Tittle said. "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."

Former National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Notre Dame, Big East commissioner John Marinatto, and the league's expansion committee are lobbying hard for BYU to join the Big East, said Williams, who has had dealings with that conference since the 1980s.

Notre Dame is an independent in football, but it has a vested interest in the Big East because all of its other sports compete in that conference. Tagliabue, a graduate of Georgetown of the Big East, serves as an unpaid consultant for the league.

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