Gordon Monson: BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe is fighting the good fight, but it’s looking like a lost cause

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe finds himself in an increasingly untenable position as Power 5 conferences continue to drop non-league games, leaving football independents like BYU with giant holes in their 2020 schedules.

On his way to work these days, decked out in some blue slacks and a BYU tie, Tom Holmoe might as well lie on down in his driveway and have someone steer the family Buick repeatedly over his kneecaps.

Over and over and over.

That’s pretty much what he’s enduring on the job.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren would be first choice behind the wheel, punching the gears into reverse — thump, thump — and then the brake, opening the throttle forward — thump, thump — slamming the brake, then shifting into reverse again — thump, thump — with the Pac-12′s Larry Scott riding shotgun. Before long, there likely will be others on board, too.

It’s now a tough world everyone in college sports is operating in, but for Holmoe and BYU it’s especially difficult, a world of his/their own making in some respects, a world of independence where, in the middle of a heavy storm no forecaster could have seen coming, there is little rescue for a man and a football program without a float, a man and a football program without a conference.

The boss of BYU sports previously had lined up what might be considered the best football schedule — one of the best, for sure — in the school’s football-playing history. The Cougars had three Pac-12 teams slated — Utah, Arizona State and Stanford — and two Big Ten members — Michigan State and Minnesota.

The operative word there is … had.

Next thing, a pandemic blew in.

And Warren and Scott, or those they represent, canceled their league’s games with out-of-conference opponents. Dropped them flat, mumbling something about flexibility inside the COVID-19 threat, never really making it completely clear what the difference is between playing a conference foe and a nonconference one in these circumstances. Especially if standardized testing is established.

That’s a point some non-league teams undoubtedly will raise in front of a judge somewhere, sometime, questioning and underscoring that if a bailout clause is used under the heading of canceling a contract on account of an act of God or some other unexpected calamity, why it’s OK in that calamity to play conference games but not out-of-conference games.

Stumbling around, looking for relief, is the order of the day for all involved.

Either way, what’s left on BYU’s schedule still is the SEC’s Missouri and the Mountain West’s Utah State, Boise State and San Diego State. The SEC is thought to be considering the same move made by the other P5 leagues, although for the time being is remaining quiet.

And then, there is the ominous prospect of the MWC playing only league games. And the American — Houston — playing only league games. And the MAC — NIU — playing only league games. Nobody’s sure that will happen, but if it did, that would leave the Cougars with …

The North Alabama Lions.

Maybe that won’t work, either.

Maybe Alabama will want to play BYU, but does that really solve the problem?

Everything is up in the air, everything but a spiraling football.

Where was Holmoe headed and what was he intending to do when he first stepped out onto his driveway? To the office, from which he could phone up Big 12 schools — but we know how that goes, when the Cougars beg for favors from that league — and every other independent he could reach. That would include teams such as Army, UMass, New Mexico State, Liberty, UConn. And, of course, Notre Dame, but … the Irish are already being taken in by the ACC, because Notre Dame is Notre Dame.

And BYU isn’t.

If it comes to that, BYU might as well do what it did so often last season when its offense sputtered.


Punt the season away.

BYU’s television partner, ESPN, might be able to help line up a few games, if possible, but that’s uncertain, too.

That’s the other end of a dirty, wretched stick Holmoe is being forced to pick up — even if he succeeds in finding new opponents to replace those he’s losing, there is the heavy likelihood that the season will be completely done in by the coronavirus, anyway.

He’s being made to scramble, then, for a prize that might evaporate, no matter how hard he works, no matter what he does, right in front of him.

No. You wouldn’t want to be Tom Holmoe right now.

The only silver in his lining is, in fact, a notably thick one. Owing to BYU’s frugality through the years in its athletic department, in that department’s unmistakable thriftiness, spending scantly on such things as salaries for coaches and other expenditures, as well, it is better positioned than most to move through financial scarcity for a season.

Being cheap in the competitive realm usually doesn’t pay off — until a pandemic hits.

On the whole, though, BYU is in a tough, tough spot.

It is losing a season before it is lost.

And there’s not much of anything Holmoe can do about it.

Except feel the pain of the family Buick rolling over those knees.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.