Provo • Brigham Young University athletic director Tom Holmoe said Wednesday that troubled linebacker Francis Bernard has yet to make a decision regarding his future college football plans.
“He is still in the process of making that decision,” Holmoe said in response to a question from an audience member during his annual Education Week address and question-answer session on the state of BYU athletics.
“It is an incredible decision the young man has to make at this time,” Holmoe continued. “Some people think it is really, really simple. It’s not.”
Holmoe said he has spoken to Bernard several times since the school announced last Thursday that the junior would not play this season and instead take a redshirt year “for personal reasons.”
The day after BYU issued the news release on the 22-year-old Bernard’s status, his 25-year-old brother told The Salt Lake Tribune that Bernard does not want to redshirt and instead wants to transfer to rival Utah. The brother said Francis was doing OK academically but was asked to redshirt because he ran afoul of BYU’s Honor Code.
“Just to be clear: My brother wants to transfer, regardless,” James Bernard Jr. said. “We talk almost every day. He just doesn’t want to stay there any more.”
Since then, neither James nor Francis Bernard have returned phone calls and text messages. Francis Bernard was seen at BYU’s practice Monday and on campus on Tuesday, when he reportedly met with Holmoe.
Coach Kalani Sitake said Monday that The Tribune report was “premature” and Bernard was still weighing his options. Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said Bernard was leaving during a radio show a few minutes later, then said Tuesday he “messed up” and backed away from those comments.
Holmoe fielded a question Wednesday morning about who has the “authority” to release student-athletes who want to transfer, the head coach or the administration. He didn’t answer that directly, but noted that “there’s a lot of talk nationally” regarding the issue and that he believes “there will be a lot more free movement” of student-athletes happening soon.
In all, Holmoe fielded more than 20 questions during the hour-long session, often provoking laughter and engaging the audience in plenty of give and take.
Bernard’s status was the second question. The first was about where BYU stands in its desire to join a Power 5 conference.
“We would like to participate in one of those conferences, so we’ve pursued that,” Holmoe said, noting that the conference realignment landscape right now is “quiet.”
Regarding a question on the sustainability of the BYU athletic program, Holmoe said the Cougars aren’t going anywhere and don’t plan on falling behind just because there is a big gap in revenue between P5 schools and non-P5 schools. He pointed to several recently completed projects — the basketball practice facility, the baseball and soccer fields getting new surfaces and upgrades at LaVell Edwards Stadium — that cost “millions and millions of dollars” — as proof.
“We wouldn’t have done that if we weren’t going full-speed ahead,” he said.
Asked why Notre Dame has not fulfilled its promise of playing a football game in Provo after BYU played the Irish twice in South Bend, Holmoe provided more hope than he has in the past.
“They owe us a game,” he said, bluntly. “There are discussions about a possible next game.”
Asked whether BYU would ever play a football game in Tonga, Samoa or Africa, Holmoe responded, incredulously: “In football?”
The crowd roared in laughter.
He was also asked if BYU goes 12-1 or 11-2 this season if the school will pony up the money to keep head football coach Kalani Sitake after the Cougars went 9-4 in his first season. Holmoe handed the questioner a baseball cap, then jokingly took it away when he mentioned Sitake could leave for a P5 program.
“Let’s just focus on beating Portland State,” he said.
The Cougars host the Vikings on Saturday at 1 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium.