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More details of BYU's plan to join WAC with Utah State emerge

Published: Wednesday, July 1 2015 11:01 a.m. MDT

More details of how complex BYU's plan to bolt from the Mountain West and how heavily involved Utah State's braintrust of president Stan Albrecht and athletic director Scott Barnes were in the process are coming to light.

Documents and e-mails obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune paint a vivid picture of the cooperation between BYU and USU -- as well as WAC commissioner Karl Benson and Fresno State president John Welty — that nearly brought about a stunning change in BYU's conference affiliation.

The documents shed light on the background of a 'Memorandum of Understanding' obtained by the Deseret News earlier this week that spelled out precisely what BYU hoped to gain by leaving the Mountain West Conference.

The plan hatched when BYU sought to improve its television revenue situation in an attempt to keep up with departing MWC rival Utah, was as close to a day away from becoming official and would have reset college athletics in the state and region as we know it.

Code named "The Project" in the e-mails, BYU's near return to the WAC in all sports but football, where the Cougars would have been an independent, was derailed when one of the co-authors of the plan, Fresno State's Welty, surprisingly abandoned it to jump to the Mountain West with the University of Nevada within a few hours of getting invitations from MWC commissioner Craig Thompson despite having made verbal and, in Fresno State's case, written pledges to stand strong with the WAC or pay a $5 million buyout.

According to the report in the Tribune, Benson informed WAC presidents a deal was imminent and might have been announced last week had Fresno State and Nevada not abandoned it.

"I talked to BYU reps several times over the weekend and they are getting close to finalizing the deal with ESPN. ... It appears BYU is prepared to go forward despite not getting the exact number they were hoping for. ... Assuming they reach a deal today Pres. Samuelson will then call for a special meeting of the Church Council - more than likely Wednesday - to recommend the deal to go independent in football and to join the WAC in all other sports. It is expected that the [Board of Trustees] will approve the recommendation," Benson wrote.

According to the report, USU vice president for federal and state relations Michael Kennedy shared Albrecht's heartbreak.

"I'm watching the [Mountain West Television Network] and feeling sick to my stomach. Any silver lining?" Kennedy asked in an e-mail.

Albrecht replied "Unfortunately, no. Thompson hasn't returned my call. Not a good sign."

Indeed not.

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company