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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe poses for a photo at LaVell Edwards Stadium Thursday, May 12, 2011.

PROVO — Being an athletic director is largely a thankless job. When things go well, most of the attention and credit goes to the head football and basketball coaches. However, when things go poorly across teams, the athletic director's seat becomes just as hot, if not hotter, as anybody else's.

ADs are like referees. Nobody cares about them until something goes seriously wrong. It's a pity they often don't get the credit and praise they deserve.

But if any athletic director deserves a hat tip for going above and beyond the line of duty, it's BYU’s Tom Holmoe. That's particularly true in light of BYU's four-game scheduling agreement with Stanford.

It's incredible considering what BYU has been through over the last three years.

Holmoe's job became much more difficult the day that BYU decided to say farewell to the Mountain West and become an independent. After all, he went from scheduling four non-conference games to putting together the entire slate.

And it's easy to forget how difficult this transition to independence started.

Rewind to 2010, just after Utah accepted its invitation to join the newly branded Pac-12. While the Utes are BYU's biggest rival on the gridiron, hardwood and every other playing surface, Utah was BYU's best friend in the conference as both fought to fight a bad TV deal.

Once Utah left, there was nothing tying BYU to the MWC. So, BYU prepared its own bold move to go independent in football while placing all the rest of its sports back into the WAC. Furthermore, the Cougars would help ease their scheduling difficulties with a scheduling agreement with the WAC. Sources at the Deseret News called this a "done deal."

But the MWC wasn't about to take this sitting down.

The conference suddenly invited Fresno State and Nevada, two of the WAC's strongest remaining programs. Later, the Mountain West would take San Jose State and Utah State as well, leaving the WAC without sufficient football programs to continue as a FBS conference.

At any rate, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson torpedoed any chance of the WAC getting BYU and in the process destroyed the WAC as we know it. That left Holmoe and BYU in a precarious position.

Would the Cougars remain in the Mountain West after Thompson's stunt? Where would BYU's solid basketball and other athletic programs compete? How could Holmoe schedule enough big-time teams to keep the fans happy while also keeping the schedule manageable?

Holmoe stepped up to the challenge. BYU's football program went independent as planned, the basketball program joined the West Coast Conference and all of BYU's other sports found a home. Now all Holmoe had to worry about was scheduling.

No pressure.

In the short term, Holmoe signed a scheduling agreement with what was left of the WAC to fill BYU's 2011 and 2012 schedules. After all, putting together a decent schedule without that agreement would have been impossible. While playing San Jose State, Idaho, New Mexico State and Hawaii in 2011 and 2012 wasn't the most exciting thing in the world for the fans, it filled an immediate critical need for opponents.

But playing a bunch of WAC teams would get old fast for BYU's fan base. If independence was going to work, the Cougars needed big-time teams to not only schedule them on the road, but travel to Provo as well.

Furthermore, BYU is in a difficult position as it tries to schedule big-name opponents. BYU isn't a cupcake team that others can schedule and count on an easy victory. It certainly isn't the kind of program that needs to throw itself at a top-ranked team, get trounced and collect a big paycheck the way that many FCS and bottom-tier FBS teams do.

On the other hand, BYU isn't Notre Dame, either. The Cougars don't have the history and prestige that the Fighting Irish do. It's unreasonable to expect teams to line up around the block to play the Cougars the same way teams will for Notre Dame.

Despite all these difficulties, Holmoe has put together some fantastic schedules.

Just look at the 2013 schedule. BYU plays a nice group of big-name teams like Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame. The 2014 schedule isn't as solid, but the Cougars still play UConn, Texas, Virginia and Cal.

Thanks to BYU's partnership with ESPN, the Cougars have been able to put together scheduling agreements with Notre Dame, Texas, USC, Arizona, Boise State and Wisconsin. There are also plenty of great one-time games against teams like Michigan and Nebraska in 2015 and West Virginia in 2016.

Tuesday's announcement of the four-game series with Stanford starting in 2020 is another feather in Holmoe's cap, along with games against Hawaii and Savannah State.

All in all, Holmoe has done his job of scheduling big-time names to play BYU. Now it’s up to Bronco Mendenhall and the football team to step up against higher competition and win.

The one thing BYU needs to work on is its bowl tie-ins. Playing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl or Poinsettia Bowl just isn't that appealing to many BYU fans. That said, the Cougars have to play well enough to prove that they're deserving of a more prestigious bowl game.

But all things considered, Holmoe deserves a nice pat on the back. He has a tough job scheduling teams for independent BYU, and he's shown that he's more than up to the challenge.

Lafe Peavler is a sportswriter intern at the Deseret News. Follow me on Twitter @MasterPeavler