Brigham Young University is on the verge of bolting the conference it had a major hand in forming 10 years ago, according to numerous reports and sources, and rejoining the league it created decades earlier.
For the Western Athletic Conference, Utah State and the other schools in the league, the move could be a dramatic change in the landscape of college sports in the western United States.
According to two sources at USU who asked to remain anonymous, the shocking move by BYU is a very real possibility and Utah State would welcome it. If BYU were to make the move, the WAC would form a football scheduling collaboration with the Cougars that would help both the WAC and BYU fill out important late-season dates.
ESPN insider Albert Lin speculates an independent BYU schedule in 2011 could include Notre Dame, Army, Navy and Utah with already scheduled teams including Texas, Oregon State and Utah State.
Contacted this morning by the Deseret News, Utah State Athletic Director Scott Barnes had "no comment" regarding BYU's pending move to the WAC.
And after BYU's 70-play scrimmage concluded Wednesday afternoon, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had much the same response.
"I am not in the loop regarding anything," Mendenhall told the army of reporters and television cameras who descended on him. The Cougars' coach said reporters should be talking to athletic director Tom Holmoe and associate athletic director Duff Tittle.
"That's where I would go (for information)," Mendenhall said. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
When asked about his comments during the Mountain West Conference media days in July, that BYU is unique institution that can stand alone, Mendenhall said he's only concerned about preparing his football team for the 2010 season.
"I have so much going on with who plays quarterback, who plays tight end, who plays inside linebacker. ... If you think I have spent one minute thinking about this since I was asked at media days, I haven't. I hate to disappoint everybody today."
Mendenhall said it's not that he doesn't care about conference realignment issues, but that he doesn't follow the reports or speculation.
"I don't get on the internet, period," Mendenhall said. "I haven't for five years since I became the head coach because I really don't value what it has to say. ... Other things take precedent."
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson said Wednesday was the first time he had heard anything about BYU going independent — and that was from reporters asking questions about it. He said decisions about the conference membership are in the hands of BYU's administrators.
A return to the WAC would rekindle what were once long-standing rivalries for BYU.
Utah State has a long history with the Cougars, and the almost-annual LDS General Conference weekend game between the two schools, a source said, would become a fixture in that scheduling agreement, as would an arrangement with Hawaii that would allow the Cougars to schedule a financially lucrative 13th game every other year. That game, for BYU, would almost always be held at LaVell Edwards Stadium and be a nice boost to BYU's revenue streams.
Karl Benson, the WAC's long-time commissioner, said during the recent WAC meetings that the conference would welcome BYU back as a football independent. After Boise State announced it would leave the WAC, the schools' presidents and athletic directors met to discuss potential expansion candidates but chose to invite no one at that time.
That move now seems a prudent one with the rapidly unfolding BYU situation.
Reached Tuesday night, a source at the WAC office said "no comment" when asked about the BYU to the WAC rumors.
According to ESPN's Andy Katz, the Mountain West reached out to WAC schools Fresno State and Nevada on Tuesday to extend conditional invitations to join the conference. Fresno State and Nevada, however, declined the opportunity, Katz reported, to join the suddenly unstable MWC.
"While BYU considers leaving the MWC, WAC members Fresno State and Nevada were approached by a MWC representative Tuesday about an invitation to the league, according to a source," Katz reported. "However, if a WAC school decides to go to the MWC, it will come at the expense of a costly buyout.
"Once Boise State left, the remaining WAC members — Fresno State, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada and Utah State — signed a $5 million buyout agreement that would be assessed to any member that left the conference within the next five years. The schools took that move to keep other members from following the Broncos to the MWC."
Boise State, according to reports in Idaho, has a no-penalty clause that would allow it to back out of joining the Mountain West. This would leave the WAC with nine football schools while bumping the league up to 10 schools for other sports.
Furthermore, if the WAC decided it wanted to expand to 12 teams, a USU source said, there are a few MWC teams that would be happy to join BYU in a move back to the WAC, with the Mountain West a suddenly unstable conference.
If more than BYU and Boise State were to make a move to the WAC, the Mountain West might be crippled in many ways and be forced to seek schools from Conference USA to fill the unexpected empty spots around the conference table.
BYU possible 2011 schedule
On the schedule: Texas, Oregon State and Utah State
Rumored: Notre Dame, Army, Navy and Utah
Contributing: Jeff Call