Brad Rock: Independent status isn't BYU's long-term answer
SALT LAKE CITY— In the latest installment of "The World is Our Conference, er, Campus" BYU wrapped up spring football last week with an interesting observation by coach Bronco Mendenhall.
The eighth-year coach allowed that late season scheduling has been one tough hombre. If there's anything harder than beating the big boys, it's scheduling them. It's true the Cougars have some impressive games ahead. Texas, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Boise State and Georgia Tech aren't dollar store trinkets. At the same time, the Cougars' 2012 schedule still looks like Leon Spinks' smile.
Mendenhall said he "probably underestimated the end of the season in terms of, if there's not a conference championship or a significant game right at the tail end, then there's kind of a lull as you get ready for the bowl game. My hope would be, through scheduling, to always target and get a real nice match-up at the end of the season, as well. Again, scheduling is difficult, but that's something I would probably do different."
But the only way to guarantee a different outcome is to join a BCS conference. Mendenhall's candid admission underscores the fact that BYU continues looking in that direction. Otherwise, why admit scheduling is such a problem?
If you can't book 'em, join 'em.
Here's guessing that before the summer is over, BYU will have negotiated a deal with the Big 12, or at worst the Big East.
Bear Bryant used to drawl: "The fans will remember the games of November." Not if you're BYU. Who did the Cougars play last November? Was it Idaho or Amherst?
A newspaper report last month claimed Georgia Tech is planning to cancel two games of a four-game series with the Cougars. With the ACC moving to a nine-game schedule, the Yellow Jackets apparently won't commit to four such contests. Similarly, since conferences are starting to limit or eliminate non-league games in the late season, the odds of BYU regularly scheduling top teams in November are shaky.
In 2017 the Pac-12 and Big Ten will start having each of their teams play an opponent from the other conference annually, which further narrows scheduling options for BYU.
The fact BYU is talking with automatic qualifier conferences is no secret. Cougar athletic director Tom Holmoe has admitted so in recent months, saying discussions were "ongoing" with the Big 12. He also confessed to talking with the Big East last year. Whether BYU is going to "discuss" itself out of a seat at the table is always a possibility.
But while slots are surely filling up, it's also true that BYU has more to offer than several schools that have recently been added to the BCS mix. Commissioners aren't blind to that. Which is why someone will eventually add BYU, Sunday restrictions notwithstanding.
Does anyone really think Central Florida, Temple, Memphis, Houston and San Diego State can make the cut but BYU can't? Most years the Aztecs couldn't fill their parking booths, much less their stadium. It's not even debatable in terms of histories, TV ratings or attendance.
Plan on 2013 or 2014 for BYU's entrance into either the Big 12, Big East or some new BCS incarnation.
When BYU announced its agreement with ESPN, last summer, Mendenhall said, "We're going to be able to find a lot of great teams to play."
True. Just not after October.
"My biggest challenge right now is saying no to all the great opportunities," Mendenhall said nearly a year ago. He added, "The number of teams that want to play us on the biggest stage, (ESPN) it's difficult to say no. But wisdom has to be applied so you don't over-schedule as well."
Turns out that over-scheduling hasn't been a huge worry, but scheduling has.
So for those who wonder whether BYU is settling into independence, the answer is no. The grand experiment got the Cougars out of the Mountain West's TV contract, but not out of the woods. Mendenhall's recent admission illustrates the fact BYU needs to end its scheduling headaches soon.
At that point BYU can officially call itself a BCS program. It might even think about tinkering with some of its other slogans. Rather than "Enter to learn, go forth to serve," why not "Enter to win, go for it on fourth"?
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