PROVO — A day after its plan to go independent in football was thwarted — at least for now — by the Mountain West Conference's decision to add Fresno State and Nevada, BYU officials were busy mulling their next move.
Athletic director Tom Holmoe took time out of his hectic schedule Thursday to address a crowd of about 150 BYU fans during a scheduled on-campus presentation at Education Week.
"We have some incredible options available to us because of BYU broadcasting and the friends that we have across the country," Holmoe said, speaking for the first time publicly since Wednesday's upheaval. "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."
There was a whirlwind of rumors, reports and speculation Wednesday as sources indicated that BYU was close to leaving the MWC, going independent in football, and having its other sports compete in the WAC.
Wednesday night, the MWC announced that two WAC members, Fresno State and Nevada, were joining the MWC. That left the WAC with only six football-playing institutions, and spoiled BYU's aim to align itself with the WAC.
During a teleconference Wednesday night, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson suggested that BYU had participated in the decision to invite Fresno State and Nevada. However, BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson did not participate in that decision, Boise State President Bob Kustra told the Idaho Statesman.
Kustra said he found out about BYU's desire to leave the league Tuesday morning during a Mountain West conference call, which included Samuelson.
"I think the entire Mountain West membership was caught off-guard by the first teleconference," Kustra said.
BYU is looking at departing the MWC because of the league's contract with TV partners Comcast and CBS, Kustra said.
"Dr. Samuelson still seemed to be concerned about the commitment that he was getting from the media companies and still was feeling that he wanted to explore other options, so he left the conference call and at that point there was discussion of what other options were viable — that it appeared BYU was leaving the conference," Kustra said.
If BYU chooses to go independent, it would likely partner with ESPN.
"Our goal is exposure," Holmoe said Thursday. "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."
How does BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall feel about the concept of independence?
"There's one thing, if asked, if there would be any merit to it. BYU-TV has 60 million homes," he said after Thursday's practice. "So the mission of this institution and church is phenomenal and there are 60 million people tied to BYU's TV network, that would be a pretty powerful thing as far as exposure."
Since an affiliation with the WAC appears to have been undermined after the defections of Fresno State and Nevada, BYU could strike a deal with another league — the West Coast Conference.
The eight members (Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland, Saint Mary's, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara) of the WCC have at least one thing in common with BYU — all are private, religiously affiliated institutions. The WCC schools reside in the Southern and northern California, Oregon and Washington markets.
WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich told ESPN that the league would be interested in BYU becoming a member.
The WCC does not play football. It plays six men's sports (baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, tennis) and seven women's sports (basketball, cross country, golf, rowing, soccer, tennis, volleyball). However, the WCC does not have softball, swimming, diving or track — sports that BYU competes in.
As for any announcement about what BYU's next move is, Holmoe said it will come "when we have something definitive to say. I can tell you something today, but it might change in an hour. 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."