BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall hit a public relations home run a couple weeks ago when he told Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman: “We would love to be in the Big 12. I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense. In fact, if that was your headline, that would be great.”
Mendenhall also made other statements supporting BYU’s case for inclusion in the conference.
This kicked off a snowball of coverage on the topic, with Mendenhall’s statements being covered by ESPN in a story that garnered 723 reader comments, Yahoo, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, NFL.com, sbnation.com, bleacherreport.com and other national outlets.
Of course Mendenhall’s comments were also covered heavily locally in Utah, generating hours of discussion on local sports radio and many stories from local newspapers and other outlets.
Big 12 “sources” were forced to talk to the media about the issue. They were forced to think about it.
This was exactly the first step BYU needed to take in order to secure its place in the top tier of college athletics.
In the wake of Mendenhall’s comments, the sports media world proved that it is willing to write and talk about the issue, which is to BYU’s advantage.
The more closely the facts are examined and discussed, the better for the Cougars. As SI.com’s Stewart Mandel said in a recent article, BYU “in terms of history and resources shares far more in common with Washington than it does with Wyoming.”
BYU needs to keep the pressure on by continuing to talk about it, both formally and informally. The Cougars need their fans and alumni, particularly famous influential alumni, to talk about it on social media, television, in letters to those in power, etc.
Maybe BYU could use a slogan like: “Hey Texas, we have a Big 12 too — they’re called Apostles. We’re a match made in heaven.”
The hashtag “#byubig12” should become a staple for Cougar supporters on Twitter.
A Facebook page called “BYU to Big 12” might get a lot of “likes.”
Getting some famous alumni or supporters to talk about it during the upcoming media day would cause a stir.
And there are plenty of other methods to explore for generating conversation and public interest.
For the Cougars, it’s not about making friends, it’s about getting in.
Whatever friendships Tom Holmoe or other BYU administrators have had with power players in college sports, they haven’t been strong enough to get the Cougars where they deserve to be.
Mendenhall’s comments in the American-Statesman would seem to indicate that BYU is recognizing this and is prepared to speak out if things don’t change.
When Mendenhall said a couple weeks ago that BYU would love to be in the Big 12, he wasn’t talking to Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman; he was talking to the Big 12 Conference and the powers that be in college football.
Mendenhall’s comments could be interpreted like this: “BYU belongs in the upper tier of college sports. If anybody is thinking we are going to quietly and graciously accept being pushed down to a lower tier, they’re wrong.”
It was a good move by the coach and the university. Consider it a proof of concept.
Now they need to keep the ball rolling.
Nate Gagon is an opinion columnist featured by the Deseret News, and writes a regular sports feature called Utah Sports Ruckus. He shoots roughly 94 percent from the free-throw line and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @nategagon.