Provo • Still recovering from the departure of longtime conference rival Utah to the Pac-12 conference, Brigham Young University football coach Bronco Mendenhall said last week that BYU and national power Boise State should be in the same league together moving forward as "natural rivals" in the Intermountain West.
Indications are strong that Mendenhall's wish is about to come true.
The Salt Lake Tribune learned Tuesday and first reported on its website that BYU is close to joining the Big East Conference as a football-only member perhaps within the next day or two and that Boise State will join as well upon being assured of at least one western partner in the far-flung league.
It is unclear whether the moves would take place next year, in 2013, or even 2014.
A source familiar with the ongoing talks between BYU and other schools and the Big East confirmed that the conference and schools could announce before the end of the week that a western division has been formed that also includes Southern Methodist and Houston. Air Force, BYU's former Mountain West Conference rival, has also been invited, but a different, western-based source told The Tribune Tuesday that Air Force is not ready to make a decision yet.
Houston, SMU and Central Florida have been invited to the Big East as full members and are said to be waiting on a decision from the western schools before making official announcements that they have accepted. Getting the schools to agree on the timing of those announcements has also delayed the process, the source said.
Navy, which is also a football independent, has also been invited to be a football-only member of the Big East, but is said to be keeping an eye on Air Force's plans before taking the leap.
The Big East is trying to get back to 12 football-playing members with the pending departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC and West Virginia to the Big 12. TCU was ticketed to join the Big East, but will now take a spot in the Big 12, a spot that BYU coveted if certain demands were met regarding its complicated television broadcast plans.
BYU officials have confirmed that they have talked to the Big East about football-only membership, but declined further comment on Monday when asked for clarification and did not immediately respond Tuesday to The Tribune's interview request.
Most of BYU's other sports have been placed in the West Coast Conference. A football-only move to the Big East would allow BYU's relationship with the WCC to continue and appease fears of leaders of the church which owns BYU The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that leaving that league after a short time would appear dishonorable.
The Big East is based in Providence, R.I., and currently includes 16 schools. Many do not play football.
A source familiar with UCF's dealing with the conference said it "appears" that BYU will be part of a group of schools that will announce they have joined this week. Several Big East leaders and some presidents of current/remaining football-playing Big East schools Louisville, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Connecticut and South Florida have visited BYU within the past few months and were reportedly impressed not only with BYU's football facilities, but its new television broadcasting building, which houses BYUtv, a national network available in more than 60 million homes.
The source familiar with the negotiations on the Big East side told The Tribune that a few logistics were still being worked out in regards to BYU because of its current television arrangements and relationships as an independent. He said there are enough variables that could change and stall the negotiations, but that both sides were viewing the possibilities "positively" and that the announcement could come sooner rather than later.
The Big East's plan is to form a pair of six-team divisions in football and stage a conference championship game, with the winner gaining a bid to a lucrative Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game.
BYU's Mendenhall acknowledged last week that the Big East was making "a push" to persuade BYU to join and that the main reason BYU would want to give up independence so quickly and join was to gain better access to a BCS bowl.
Big East football-playing schools
Sources confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday that BYU is on the verge of joining the Big East Conference as a football-only member. The conference has also reportedly invited Boise State, Air Force, SMU, Houston, Central Florida and Navy, although none have committed yet to join the five football-playing schools that will remain in the Big East when Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburgh leave for other leagues. A closer look at those five schools:
Location • New Brunswick, N.J.
Enrollment • 28,031
Nickname • Scarlet Knights
University of Cincinnati
Location • Cincinnati, Ohio
Enrollment • 31,523
Nickname • Bearcats
University of Louisville
Location • Louisville, Ky.
Enrollment • 15,125
Nickname • Cardinals
University of South Florida
Location • Tampa, Fla.
Enrollment • 36,358
Nickname • Bulls
University of Connecticut
Location • Storrs, Conn.
Enrollment • 20,846
Nickname • Huskies