Scott G Winterton, Deseret News archives
BYU's Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall

PROVO — Bronco Mendenhall made no bones about it when asked: Yes, the Big East has contacted BYU.

To what extent that courtship is, Mendenhall could not, or would not say.

That the Big East is looking and making inquiries isn't news.

That Bronco confirmed it is.

This is news because BYU fans are in a post-TCU loss, no rivalry game, no conference title chase moody November. They've got two night games against Idaho and New Mexico State. Bronco threw out a bone amidst BYU administrative silence.

It was refreshing.

The Big East is looking to add Boise State and Air Force from the Mountain West, and it is a no-brainer it would all go down smoother if the independent Cougars would join them.

But someone at BYU admitting it publicly is very unusual at a university that's been very conservative in its comments about all the conference realignment talk the past three months.

The last time somebody at BYU spoke publicly about realignment was 24 days prior to Mendenhall's simple Monday answer.

It came Oct. 15 in the press box at Oregon State when BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe asked reporters to join him before kickoff and he told them talks with the Big 12 have been "ongoing."

Since that time, Missouri has officially withdrawn from the Big 12 and joined the SEC, West Virginia has accepted a Big 12 invitation to join in 2012, sued the Big East to let it go, and in turn has been sued by the Big East to honor its contract for 27 months.

The Big East has made overtures to anybody with any stock who will listen: They want more bodies to fill-in for departing TCU, Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia.

And I maintain, BYU remains in talks with the Big 12.

It was interesting on Monday that Mendenhall was very candid about BYU's struggle to schedule in November, that this first year as an independent has been tough to lasso teams, especially from multiple conferences.

The BYU coach said the changing landscape of college football (realignment in the Big 12, Big East and ACC) could lend some solutions to the Cougars in scheduling.

Some may take his comment to suggest possible alignment with a BCS conference would solve scheduling challenges in November.

"There are already changes that (will be) manifest for next year and the year after, and the year after is more difficult, but it won't be to where there will only be, let's say, teams from a single conference that we'll finish with," said Mendenhall. "There will be more diversity, and that's already in place. And with the way that college football is shifting and shaping right now, some of our existing contracts might even change that we already have for next year, the following year, and the following year."

When asked about rumors that the Big East had contacted BYU about joining with Boise State and Air Force, Mendenhall replied:

"There is a push, and there are conversations that are in place, for the Big East to convince, or to have BYU join that conference. I trust our athletic director (Tom Holmoe) and President (Cecil) Samuelson to deal with all that. I've been informed along the way, and at some point there will be a decision on what our intentions will be. I don't know how fast, nor do I think the time frame is relevant at this point.

"Certainly (there are plenty) of questions on our part," he added. "But with the landscape changing, the main benefit that I could see on a short-term scale would be inclusion into the BCS system. That's up in two years, and whether the Big East is able to hold that spot, with the new teams going in, my guess would be yes.

"I can't speak as to what we're going to do, other than just verify that we have been approached. I wasn't involved in anything else."

Meanwhile, Boise State officials have made it clear they'd feel more comfortable in the Big East if BYU joined them, folks at the Air Force Academy aren't going to jump without an extensive study.

MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson told the Colorado Springs Gazette that the Falcons need to be careful what they wish for, that others have made moves too quickly. AFA could receive more money, but there are instability issues in the Big East, and revenue sharing and even keeping BCS status are all up in the air.

"Air Force is diligent and they're doing the right thing in saying, 'Let me know all the answers to all the questions,'" Thompson said. "Not everybody has done it that way. They've kind of gone in saying, 'We're going, then we'll figure it all out.' Air Force has said, 'No, we'll figure it out, then we'll decide if we're going.' "

Of course it is in Thompson's interest to keep the MWC together after defections from TCU, Utah and BYU. Right now, he's standing on a carton of eggs.

In a separate discussion, AFA officials have made it known they will be hurting for money and need facility upgrades. It is estimated the academy will face $500 billion in cuts the next 10 years.

AFA could benefit from a revenue boost from BCS membership, even if it's $8 million to $10 million instead of the gaudy $18 million to $30 million some BCS leagues have boasted.

"The chance for us to get any kind of increase in revenue from the Air Force — and we understand that — this is a much bigger issue than us. What it does say is we need a new funding stream," said athletic director Hans Mueh.

Last week when Boise State successfully petitioned the Idaho Board of Education for permission to talk to the Big East, Bronco officials said each league member in the Big East receives $3.7 million in TV money, or double what the MWC will pay out in 2011. Promises that it would be much higher, somewhere above $10 million per team per year, is conjecture.

"Is it a $3.7 million contract, as we know today, or is it a $10 million contract?" Thompson asked. "You don't know that. And you won't know that until you get in there."

Thompson outlines many of the concerns AFA or any other school might have with the Big East.

At present, BYU has an eight-year contract with ESPN and doesn't share any of the money.

Thompson said that primarily, the issues are what will a Big East TV contract look like in the future? How will revenue be distributed? What about BCS access?

Thompson reiterated that if anyone from the Big East is saying it has BCS access beyond anything but three years, they are lying.

What's it all mean?

One can't say; things change almost daily. No wonder there is a shroud of silence.


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