The more Tom Holmoe talked during his recent media summit, the more it became clear that he knows what you know that he knows that you know:
BYU isn’t just an independent.
It is alone.
It has been left out by the five power leagues of college football, the programs by which the Cougars measure themselves, the schools and teams that have what they want: exposure, scheduling, access, relevance, opportunity and money.
As loners, they are not an exception. They are not Notre Dame, the program to which the Cougars attempted to tether themselves, or at least identify with and pattern themselves after. If the Irish could make independence work, then there was also hope for BYU.
Now, Holmoe said the series with Notre Dame is in question. Everything has changed, he said.
One thing remains the same: Notre Dame is Notre Dame and BYU isn’t.
Notre Dame can navigate the churned, changed waters of college football. BYU might be able to stay afloat in that big, broad ocean, but nothing is certain. Not with leagues mandating that its members play nonconference games against teams from other power leagues, but then not granting BYU that same status or showing BYU the respect that status brings. On top of that, there’s the more ominous threat that the P5, with its newly granted autonomy, could only schedule games against themselves. That would push BYU football off a cliff.
The Cougars deserve better than that.
They should be in a P5 league, or at a minimum have similar status.
Theirs is a proud football tradition that includes everything from a Heisman Trophy to a national championship, with plenty of Doak Walker Award winners, Outland Trophy winners, national player and coach of the year award winners mixed in. There have been many losses to powerful programs in that history, but also some memorable big wins. Their regular-season schedule has rarely been anything to shout about, a whole lot of their victories have been against dog teams, but in their independence they are attempting to remedy that.
BYU has top-drawer facilities, a great stadium and a large fan base.
There are numerous P5 schools that cannot match the Cougars’ success or tradition, success and tradition that have been earned mostly via emphasis on football, on investing in football, on innovative coaching and developing some terrific players. They’ve had enough of an impact and presence on the college landscape to be included now.
If it were left to athletic directors, at least those in past years that I’ve interviewed, BYU already would be in the Pac-12. Based on performance of teams in the athletic department, football in particular, and the interest it creates, those ADs said they would have loved to have the Cougars aboard.
For reasons that go far beyond sports, the presidents went another way.
Utah made it in, and is going through the adjustments necessary to get acclimated. That’s a good thing.
BYU got shafted. It’s a good fit geographically, its student-body is mostly from the West, many from California, as are so many of its alumni and fans. The research-institution excuse is bogus, as was evident when the old Pac-10 went after certain attractive football schools, and failed. Cougar football would suffer growing pains in that competitively difficult environment, but would also adjust.
Now, the Cougars are doing what they can to get into the Big 12, a conference with only 10 schools and without a championship game — leagues need a minimum of 12 for that — and if it were left to Bronco Mendenhall, that’s where BYU would end up.
In June, he famously told the Austin American-Statesman: "We would love to be in the Big 12. I would love to be a member of that conference." Then, he rattled off the reasons that affiliation made so much sense.
On Wednesday, Holmoe essentially said that BYU’s position and what the school offers is known by the Big 12, and BYU certainly knows the advantages of being included. A stopgap could be the Cougars continuing to link up with such leagues by scheduling a slew of games with them. That is true with the Pac-12. BYU’s future schedules are loaded up — and getting more that way — with teams from that league. An additional home-and-home series with Washington was just announced. It seems BYU is that sweet date that’s hot enough to flirt with but not quite good enough to marry.
In the past, the Cougars developed a reputation for being crazy-hot, difficult to deal with — and that’s a rep that they still live down. It would be interesting to know if they had to do things over again, if they would be a bit more pliable in their negotiations. Some of their unique demands — not playing on Sunday — might never be altered. But others, such as TV rights, might have been.
Either way, BYU teetering on the edge of the college football precipice, facing the reality of being left out, while other schools that have done less to deserve inclusion enjoy their inside benefits, is an injustice. BYU deserves better.
Holmoe knows that you know that he knows that you know that, too.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM.
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