PROVO — From a distance, it’s seemed like a dark cloud has been hovering over the BYU football program.
The past couple of months, the Cougars have made national headlines, and most of them were not exactly flattering.
There were the reports of the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference relegating BYU to a lower tier of football — not including the Cougars in the category of Power 5 schools when it comes to scheduling. That prompted questions about BYU's long-term viability as an independent in the ever-changing landscape of college football.
Then came the allegations of players receiving impermissible benefits, and the potential of NCAA rules violations. Questions surfaced about how this might impact the program, which has had the reputation as being one of the cleanest in America.
At the school's annual football media day inside the BYU Broadcasting Building Monday, Cougar officials, coaches and players addressed those issues — and more — for the first time.
The bottom line? According to those inside the program, the sky is not falling.
When asked about the internal investigation conducted by the school in regard to potential NCAA violations, athletic director Tom Holmoe said he expects to hear from the NCAA within the next month.
“This is a potential violation that will be in the lower category,” he explained Monday. “This is not a major issue.”
Asked if the outcome of the investigation would affect this year’s team — including the possibility of suspensions — coach Bronco Mendenhall said he’d “be surprised” if it did.
“We handled it so well in terms of communication and how thorough the internal investigation was and how fast we reported it and the natures of the violations, in my opinion. I’d be very surprised if there’s any impact.”
In terms of the nature of the internal investigation, “There was a single incident that I heard of,” Mendenhall said. “I heard of it and within 10 seconds I called our (athletic director). It was a single player that I heard of.”
Players say the allegations and reports haven’t affected them. They are busy preparing for the 2014 season, which opens Aug. 29 at UConn. Fall camp opens Aug. 1.
“You’d think from the outside looking in, it would be a big distraction. But it really hasn’t been,” said wide receiver Mitch Mathews. “Coach (Mendenhall) has done a great job of letting us know what we need to worry about and what we don’t need to worry about. We haven’t had a team meeting about it. As far as we know, we don’t need to worry about it.”
“I think a lot of players, we don’t really know what’s going on in its entirety,” said quarterback Taysom Hill. “That’s something the coaching staff and administration has handled. We’ve handled our business in the weight room and on the practice field. We hear things, but that doesn’t affect how we prepare for this coming year.”
BYU didn’t make any major announcements Monday — no news about future schedules. However, both Holmoe and Mendenhall said that they are excited about the intriguing matchups that will be announced in the near future.
Mendenhall acknowledged that he, and his players, will probably have a chip on their shoulder after being publicly snubbed by the SEC and ACC.
That aside, Mendenhall said he isn’t worried about future scheduling. In fact, he added that BYU will be playing against SEC and ACC foes down the road.
Holmoe said he’s not concerned, either.
“The reality of it is that we’re continuing to schedule and talk with teams from those conferences,” he said. “They’re calling us.”
Earlier this month, Mendenhall drew national attention when he lobbied for BYU’s inclusion into the Big 12.
"We would love to be in the Big 12," Mendenhall told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. "I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense."
When asked about that Monday, Mendenhall stood by his comments.
“I wouldn’t take back any of it,” he said. “If someone doesn’t speak up on our behalf on the national landscape of what could happen, we don’t have a (conference) commissioner. ... I am the coach, but I think it would be a fantastic league to be in. I like the values of the states (in the league), the conservative nature. I like the type of football, and I think it’s regional enough. And that doesn’t mean I’m not happy with independence. I like what it’s doing for us. We are making huge progress. It allows me to make comments like that. But eventually, I think we’ll have to be in one of those leagues if this thing keeps shifting the way it is. But it won’t be my decision.”
Mendenhall said he didn’t consult with Holmoe before making his comments to the Texas newspaper.
“I’m sure I’ve made people uncomfortable or mad or somewhere in between,” he said. “I want the very best for our program, for our players. I want to play football at the very elite level every single week in college football.“
What was Holmoe’s reaction to Mendenhall’s comments?
“He’s a coach, and I was a coach, and sometimes the emotions of a coach run a little bit high,” he said.
Holmoe was quick to add that when it comes to the future of BYU football, “We’re on the same team.”
Though he would like to see BYU be a part of the Big 12, “I like independence as a great place to launch from," Mendenhall said. "It’s moving us closer to inclusion.”