Provo • Is BYU, a college football independent since 2011, considering a return to the Mountain West Conference?
A report on ESPN.com Monday afternoon said the Cougars "have had conversations with Mountain West membership about the possibility of returning to the league," along with Boise State and San Diego State.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said after practice Monday night that he had not heard of such a thing.
"I don't know anything about it," he said.
San Diego State athletic director Jim Sterk also downplayed the ESPN.com report on Monday. Boise State and San Diego State are leaving the MWC for the Big East Conference next July.
"Our president has just been on a call with Boise State, and they haven't had any communication with the Mountain West, either, and the president at BYU [Cecil Samuelson] hasn't had communication with them either," Sterk told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe as a rule does not respond to scheduling questions or questions regarding conference realignment. He reiterated two weeks ago that BYU is happy as a football independent and with its membership in most other sports in the West Coast Conference.
As for Mendenhall, he said Monday that "there's nothing I would be shocked by with realignment, etc. I don't know what to think. I am just trying to get our team ready to play" on Saturday at New Mexico State (1:30 p.m., ESPN3).
ESPN.com college football reporter Brett McMurphy, quoting unnamed sources, reported that the talks between the three schools and the MWC surfaced last week in Denver after BCS commissioners awarded automatic access to a major bowl to the highest-rated champion of the so-called "Group of Five" conferences that includes the Big East and the MWC. That decision basically gives equal access to the Big East and the MWC, starting in 2014.
CBS has television rights to MWC games until 2016, with an option through 2019. Obviously, if it gets back into the MWC, BYU will have to give up its eight-year television deal with ESPN.
Dominoes are again falling in the conference realignment picture, with the Big East expected to lose Rutgers to the Big Ten and possibly Connecticut or Louisville to the Atlantic Coast Conference, which lost Maryland to the Big Ten on Monday.
Boise State and SDSU would have to pay an exit fee of $5 million apiece to get out of the Big East; as an independent, BYU would not have to pay an exit fee to any conference, obviously.
McMurphy also reported Monday that BYU's deal with ESPN is worth nearly $4 million a year through 2018, with an option for 2019.
Because of that deal, it is highly unlikely that BYU would rejoin the MWC without a considerable reworking of the TV deal that the MWC already has.
After suffering an injury to his lower right rib cage where a rib attaches to cartilage late in the third quarter of BYU's 20-14 loss to San Jose State, quarterback Riley Nelson did not practice on Monday. Head athletic trainer Jeff Hurst said Nelson is day-to-day and could not predict whether the senior will play on Saturday.
Also, receiver Cody Hoffman suffered a slight AC joint strain in his shoulder against the Spartans, Hurst confirmed. However, Hoffman practiced on Monday and is expected to play against the Aggies.
"I would say Saturday he will be good to go," Hurst said.
BYU punter Riley Stephenson, a senior from St. George, is the FBS Independent Special Teams Player of the Week. Stephenson, a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, punted five times for a 50-yard average against San Jose State. He pinned the Spartans inside the 20-yard line twice.
BYU at New Mexico State
P Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Online • ESPN3