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Where would a major college football split leave independent BYU?

Published July 22, 2013 3:41 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe hinted that it might be coming in May when he sat down with reporters for his annual roundtable discussion on the state of the BYU athletic program which he oversees. He also referred to it last month during BYU's football media days. Another division — a "super division" of football programs from the top five BCS conferences (Pac-12, Big 12, SEC, ACC and Big Ten) — could be coming to major college football. Last week, commissioners from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) talked about the possibility, but not at length. On Monday, however, the Big 12 football media days got underway in Dallas, and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was as concise and direct regarding the matter as any official yet. Bowlsby said in his address that "transformative change" could be coming, and that all of his peers in BCS conferences unanimously favor such a move. According to Dennis Dodd of CBSsports.com, Bowlsby said one of those significant changes could be the formation of a so-called "Division 4" in college football that would include "the highest level" of football-playing schools, about 60-70 of them. Obviously, BYU is not in a football conference, let alone a top-five BCS conference. So the big question in Provo today has to be this: If such a division is formed, would football-independent BYU be included with the higher level schools, or not? Certainly, Notre Dame, which is also independent in football but has a five-game scheduling agreement with the ACC, would be included with the big boys. That goes without saying. Another independent, Army, doesn't have the budget to even be considered. So what about BYU? Here's what Holmoe said regarding that possible split on June 26: "Right now, independence works for us. It is good. But in the event that there is a split in college football, where you have that ones that come over here [gestures], and the ones that go over there — and that would mean Division I splits, we got to be on the ones, with the big boys. We gotta be over there [gestures again]. And right now, as an independent, we are not in the Big Five [conferences]. So we are going to do everything that we can to position ourselves for the time when that happens, or if that happens. And that's important to us, because BYU football is a big part of college football. ... When that time comes, we gotta be ready to roll. We have a good arrangement right now. We have a really good arrangement, and we are going to fight to get into those games. And one of the things that you say is, 'maybe Army and BYU as independents have the worst path.' Let me tell you, if we go 12-0, we are there. We are there. With the schedule that we have the next couple of years, no one is going to question our strength of schedule, and we will have knocked off some really good teams to get there. 11 and 1? Not quite sure if that will do it, depending on the year and everywhere else. If we were in a conference somewhere else, not a Big Five conference, I am not sure [that 11-1 would do it]. You might slip in by some scenario. But we are not looking to slip in. We are looking to get there the best way we possibly can. When those non-Big Five teams get in, they will have earned it. But we can earn it by being great."In May, Holmoe talked about attending a conference for athletic directors earlier in the year in Southern California. After being asked what he learned at the meeting, the first point he mentioned was that athletic directors aren't happy with the current way the NCAA is operating in regard to college football. "The landscape of college athletics, and particularly college football, is rumbling. It is not settled," Holmoe said. "There are a lot of issues outside of playoffs and outside of conference alignment, that have to do with the NCAA, and compliance, and there are a lot of issues out there that need to be settled. The athletic directors want to be able to have a big hand in that — even the ones at schools in the big-time conferences feel that their say in what is going on isn't being heard." How soon could a breakaway happen? "There was actually a little bit of talk about that," Holmoe said. "But I don't think it is upon us right now. There would have to be a lot of things that would have to occur in order for that to happen. .... I don't think I learned anything more about that particular topic, other than it is floating out there." Holmoe reiterated that a positive aspect of independence is that BYU wouldn't have to pay an exit fee of any kind to slide into that so-called Division 4 (Dodd said it won't necessarily be called that, figuring a major corporation such as Nike will buy the naming rights). "I fully understand where our fan base would like us to be," he said in late May. "To say what is possible today, coming up on the first of June. I am going to tell you that things will change in the next month or two. Things will change that will not rock the world, but will change our ideas about how we plan for the future. You can't really have a five-year plan as a college athletic director. You can have one, but it better be flexible, because things are going to change." In his address Monday, Bowlsby seconded an opinion that Alabama coach Nick Saban threw out last week at the SEC meetings, that the day could come where top-five BCS conference schools might choose to only play games amongst themselves in the future, and not play teams from the Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA, MAC or American conferences. The last major shakeup of college football divisions came in 1978, when Division I-AA was created for schools such as Weber State. It it now known as the Football Championship Subdivision and has its own playoff. ACC commissioner John Swafford said last week that the new division could be formed within six months. One of the major desires of the Big Five schools is that they want to be able to pay players, something that schools in non-BCS conferences have traditionally voted down. So should Holmoe and football coach Bronco Mendenhall start the campaign now to ensure BYU is included in Division 4? Holmoe hinted that it is already happening, behind the scenes, but in subtle ways. "I think that selling yourself — no one likes to see someone out there selling themselves all the time," Holmoe said. "In some instances, I have seen [schools] that put themselves out there publicly, and then get denied. It doesn't look good. And so I think the best course for us is to have the discussions, to monitor the future, and have these discussions off-line. And they know exactly what we want, and what our desires are. So to put that out there publicly is not the right course."