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BYU in talks with Big 12 in wake of Texas A&M's exit

Published September 4, 2011 12:20 am

Frenzy hovers over Cougars' possible conference change.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Responding to media inquiries after Wednesday's announcement that Texas A&M has told the Big 12 Conference it plans to leave the league by July 2012, BYU officials reiterated that they are happy with the course the school has taken in regards to football independence and its affiliation with the West Coast Conference for other sports.

However, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned that BYU officials have had discussions with Big 12 officials within the past week regarding the school's interest in joining the conference, and what conditions and assurances it would need to make the jump exactly a year after announcing they were breaking away from the Mountain West Conference.

It is unclear whether the talks have included an invitation from the Big 12.

A BYU source said the talks have included the school's desire to utilize its own television network, BYUtv, in a BCS automatic-qualifying conference much as it plans to this year. The talks have also included ESPN officials and even some input from Notre Dame representatives, whom BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe has referred to as "partners" in the past year.

On the day it declared its independence last year, BYU announced it had agreed to an eight-year deal with ESPN and a six-game series with Notre Dame, also an independent.

Some of the discussions involve the possibility of BYU joining the Big 12 for football only and keeping its other sports in the WCC.

Speculation was so heavy regarding BYU's future on Wednesday that school athletic department officials issued a news release that neither denied they have been contacted by the Big 12 nor acknowledged it.

"There is much speculation right now regarding conference affiliation that seems to change by the hour," BYU said. "Commenting on such conjecture is not productive and creates a distraction for our program. As we enter the 2011-12 athletic season, BYU is focused on the opportunities ahead. We are excited about our relationship with ESPN as a football independent, and our affiliation with the West Coast Conference."

Fueling the frenzy was the fact that a private jet left Addison Airport, near Big 12 headquarters north of Dallas, early Wednesday morning and landed at the Provo airport at 8:35 a.m. MDT, according to a website that tracks flights, flightaware.com.

However, a Big 12 spokesperson said he was "not aware" of any Big 12 officials on the private aircraft owned by a Richardson, Texas, company known as Boca Air. Duff Tittle, associate athletic director for communications, declined to confirm or deny whether any league representatives were on campus.

Clearly, the school owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is approaching the situation with trepidation, unlike a year ago when it would have jumped at the chance to join a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) automatic-qualifying league after 100-plus-year rival Utah was invited to the Pac-12.

Relationships have been forged since then — relationships that the school's board of trustees (read: high-ranking LDS Church officials) will be very hesitant to damage, especially with those affiliated with the faiths that sponsor the schools in the WCC. Holmoe has repeatedly declined to reveal if BYU has a buyout or escape clause in its contract with the WCC.

After Wednesday's football practice, head coach Bronco Mendenhall reiterated statements made Monday and Tuesday that he does not know whether BYU has had discussions with the Big 12, and also repeated his happiness with the route the school has taken.

"Who knows how it will play out, but I really like where we are right now," Mendenhall said.

drew@sltrib.com Jimmer, Walker to square off

Basketball • Ex-UConn guard Kemba Walker will play in a two-game exhibition with ex-BYU guard Jimmer Fredette next month in Utah.

Read the blog • sltrib.com/blogs/byusports —

BYU at Ole Miss

P Saturday, 2:45 p.m.

TV • ESPN