PROVO — For now, the future of BYU sports is fraught with uncertainty.
Nobody knows this better than the school's athletic director, Tom Holmoe.
"Things are playing out right now. I'll check my e-mail and literally things will have changed in the last hour. It's amazing," Holmoe told the Deseret News Thursday after he delivered a presentation as part of his annual Education Week address on campus. "We have people who are watching it and monitoring it on a regular basis."
Which is why Holmoe said he can't say much about BYU's situation.
On Thursday, during Education Week, Holmoe spoke publicly for the first time since reports about BYU going independent surfaced.
While talking with the Deseret News, Holmoe reached into his pocket to answer his phone. "Let me get this," he said. "It's my boss."
Then Holmoe turned, answered the call, and briskly walked away — presumably returning to his office on lower campus.
There have been a whirlwind of rumors, reports and speculation the past 36 hours as it appeared BYU was close to leaving the Mountain West Conference, going independent in football, and playing its other sports in the Western Athletic Conference.
BYU released a statement Wednesday that did not confirm or deny the reports of going independent, only that BYU "has been reviewing, and will continue to explore, every option to advance its athletic program."
The situation became more complex Wednesday night, when the MWC announced that two WAC members, Fresno State and Nevada, were joining the MWC, leaving the WAC with only six football-playing institutions.
About 150 fans showed up for Holmoe's address in an auditorium at the Kimball Tower. During the address, he discussed for about 50 minutes the top 20 highlights of the BYU sports year. Afterward, for about 10 minutes, he fielded questions from Education Week attendees.
"Let's be real. There's a lot of things going on in the athletic department and around the country," Holmoe said before taking questions. "As you can tell, it's our policy or procedure that we're not going to play out our business in the media. We don't do that.
"Don't ask me to tell you what we're doing in relation to strategies and talks and things like that," he continued. "We have some incredible options available to us because of BYU broadcasting and the friends that we have across the country. We're going to look to make sure that we build on those things and take advantage of those things. We're trying to put ourselves in position to be the best we can, which is exposure across the country, letting our kids shine in the bright lights."
Asked how the move of Fresno State and Nevada from the WAC to the MWC affects BYU's strategy, Holmoe said, "Does what Fresno State does affect us? It does."
Is there a timetable for any further announcement?
"When we have something definitive to say. I can tell you something today, but it might change in an hour," Holmoe said. "I'd prefer not to say something that we'd like to happen that looks good today that an hour later didn't happen.
"If you read the newspapers today, a lot of things happened yesterday and last night. Anything I could have said yesterday would not have been accurate today. Anything I tell you today might not be accurate tomorrow. When is it going to be done? It'll be done when it's done. I'm not trying to be a jerk about it. If you're in business, the deal gets done when it gets done."
Earlier this summer, Holmoe said the school was frustrated by the lack of television exposure afforded by the MWC's television partners. "Our goal is exposure," he said Thursday.
As reported Wednesday, BYU could partner with ESPN if it decides to go independent.
"I don't think that's a secret of our strategy," he said. "We have a great relationship with ESPN ... It's very difficult for us to get teams to come play us at the Marriott Center and LaVell Edwards Stadium. They don't want to come. They'll come if they're on ESPN. So that's the thing. We have a great relationship with ESPN and it will continue, regardless of how things go."
While answering a question about why BYU doesn't televise certain games on campus for students, Holmoe explained that the MWC broadcast partners won't give permission to BYU to show Cougar games on campus. ESPN, on the other hand, does.
"It sounds funny, but our TV partners in the Mountain West Conference will not allow us (to show) our games (on campus)," he said.
How would independence help BYU?
"In any conference you're in, you have 8 to 9 football games," he said. "If you're not playing a conference schedule, you have many more games (to schedule). You have that opportunity to play more teams and get a wider reach."
During his presentation, Holmoe emphasized that the rivalry with Utah will go on, even though the Utes are set to join the Pac-10 in 2011.
"That rivalry will continue. We'll play them in all sports. We're not afraid of them and they're not afraid of us," he said. "For the athletes and coaches, we have a very good respect for each other. When we get out onto the field, it's tough. But everyone who's played in that (rivalry) respects it. We need to continue that. Some people don't like it, don't think we should (play Utah). Some people want to play 11 games in a row against them. The answer is, we'll continue that. We're in talks and in the near future, you'll hear some type of announcement about the schedule for the games. So all is well with that rivalry."
Holmoe urged BYU fans to be respectful of Utah fans.
"Be good sports," he said. "Support the rivalry. Don't say anything crazy or negative about our opponents. Respect them. On the field, it's one of the best games or matches you'll ever see. Nobody will get more anxious, nervous, excited and have a chance to fall apart or excel than in that game. In the history of our tradition, some of the very best performances in the history of BYU have happened against Utah. Why in the world would we ever throw that away?"
BYU has a game at Texas scheduled for the 2011 season. Holmoe remains optimistic that the Longhorns will play a return game in Provo in the near future.
"We're still working out some details of dates," he said. "That's one of the things we're trying to do — not only going across the country to play in big games, but also I think our fans want to see the big teams here. That's what we're trying to do. Not just go out and play Oklahoma and go to Texas to see it, but if we have to play two (road) games to get one back, there's only about five teams in the country we'd do that against. I think it's in our best interest."
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