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(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) BYU head football coack Bronco Mendenhall talks to reporters.
Kragthorpe: Bronco’s ‘love’ for Big 12 devalues BYU’s independence
First Published Jun 06 2014 08:36 am • Last Updated Jun 06 2014 11:46 pm

Bronco Mendenhall’s declaration that BYU "would love" to join the Big 12 was so out of the blue and out of character that it almost seemed fictional.

The Cougars’ football coach is rarely available for interviews between early April and August, other than the school’s Media Day in late June. Yet here he was making headlines — even suggesting headlines, according to the report — Thursday in a Texas newspaper, expressing BYU’s case for Big 12 membership in a strikingly forward manner.

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Naturally, Mendenhall’s statement to the Austin American-Statesman relaunched a debate about whether BYU is worthy of a Big 12 invitation. That’s not really the issue, because while BYU has much to offer, conferences can choose the schools they want. It’s that simple.

So the news value to me was Mendenhall’s boldness in addressing the school’s quest for membership in a Power 5 conference, while preparing for the football program’s fourth season of independence. Many fans will find his stance refreshing, reinforcing that the school has big athletic ambitions in a changing landscape.

But the side effect is diminishing the value of BYU’s current status. Mendenhall can’t say, "I would love to be a member of that conference" and then two weeks later at Media Day gush about how wonderful independence is for the program.

The irony is his comments were published the same day when BYU announced a home-and-home series with UCLA in 2015-16, adding to the Cougars’ extensive Pac-12 bookings. Athletic director Tom Holmoe has done a nice job of scheduling with Pac-12 schools, considering those programs play only three nonconference games each year.

Many of BYU’s upcoming opponents are attractive, although this year’s home schedule hardly fits that description and the 2015 schedule is too front-loaded, with trips to Nebraska, Michigan and UCLA and a home date with Boise State — all in September.

That’s all part of the challenge of independence. BYU would be better off in a power conference, obviously. So in that sense, Mendenhall just said what everybody associated with BYU was already thinking. But he veered off the path far enough to make the Cougars’ continued independence a tougher sell.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt


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