SALT LAKE CITY — BYU fans undoubtedly felt their pulses rise — or maybe their stomachs lurch — this week when the Chronicle of Higher Education reported the Cougars are again being considered by the Big 12.
The article quoted sources saying conference expansion is "very possible" and Louisville is the likeliest choice, followed by BYU. With just 10 teams in the conference, it makes sense to move to an even dozen.
BYU has been the subject of similar stories for nearly two years. What's different now? Not much, except this: There's been enough considering. It's time for BYU to make its intentions clear. How about some committing?
Forget the "We'll do what's best for BYU" rhetoric. Why not just say they're in or out? Then the fans can relax. If BYU wants to remain independent forever, just say so. If it intends to get in an automatic qualifier football conference, say that. That way Cougar fans can sit back and cheer for the outcome, instead of wondering whether they should be cheering at all.
Right now BYU fans don't know what to think. This has been one bumpy ride. They like their BYUtv flexibility. They're happy with the ESPN deal and at least OK with the West Coast Conference basketball situation. But they're unhappy with their November football schedule. Mostly they're angst-ridden about whether BYU will be left out when the division between serious and slight football programs occurs.
So why doesn't the university just put its plan out there?
Unless, heaven forbid, it doesn't know its full intentions.
There are some harsh things that could be said about Boise State, mainly that it's opportunistic or even mercenary. This is the school that joined the Mountain West for approximately 15 minutes before jumping to the Big East. Prior to that were stops in the Big Sky, Big West and WAC. Texas Christian did the same by switching from the WAC, to Conference USA, to the MWC, to the Big East, to the Big 12 in a dozen years. But in both cases there was no dancing around the issue. Each had designs on moving up, conference loyalties notwithstanding.
BYU needs some attitude of its own. Now that it's independent, it has nobody's feelings to spare. So just say it: The Cougars have their eyes on the BCS prize. Or that they fully intend to become the new Notre Dame. Or that second-tier football is good enough, as long as BYU has control of its message and mission.
It's not as though BYU has been totally silent. Athletics director Tom Holmoe stated in November that the Cougars had not been invited to the Big 12, but he was keeping in touch. He told reporters at the Armed Forces Bowl in December that BYU talked with both the Big East and Big 12 during the season.
He went on to say "everybody watches" conference realignment "so we have to watch. You wouldn't want to be left out."
But he also said the Cougars like independence because it "gives us the opportunity to be independent in the sense that we're not tied down anywhere" and added that BYU will look out for its interests.
It should also be looking out for the mental health of its fans.
It's doubtful BYU would be left out of the BCS mix unless it wanted. If the BCS is about money, exposure, facilities or fan base, the Cougars can accommodate. At the same time, Navy joined the Big East on Wednesday. As the advertisements say, "Call now, openings are filling up fast!"
BYU needs to say it's in or out of the hunt for a conference berth. Instead of saying it has had conversations with the Big 12, it should say it's actively going to petition. Or that it will permanently sit out this whole realignment thing.
It needs to put speculation about its intentions to rest.
Because in matters of love, health and conference realignment, always the worst part is not knowing.