It appears the nomadic BYU football program may be finding a home soon.
Reports emerged Tuesday from the Salt Lake Tribune that BYU is on the brink of reaching a deal with the Big East to join that conference for football only, potentially creating a western division with several other schools. Southern Methodist, Houston, Central Florida, Boise State, Air Force and Navy have also been involved in substantive discussions with the Big East. BYU’s athletic department made no official statement regarding the report that an agreement will be made later this week.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said last week the Big East had been in discussions with BYU, he but said on Tuesday he could not confirm reports the two parties are close to a deal.
“I haven’t heard a thing,” he said. “Whatever I was asked [during that press conference] is the latest that I know.”
Mendenhall did express mixed feelings about the prospect of once again joining a conference. The Cougars left the Mountain West Conference at the end of the 2010 season in favor of independence. Finding opponents for their schedule has been a struggle for the Cougars, but the team has benefited from almost weekly coverage by ESPN.
“That’s one of the biggest things that would be on my mind,” Mendenhall said. “The amount of coverage we received this year was so strong, it would have to be a great conference package to make sense. I love the idea of being in a conference, but that would have to be with the exposure and the access to top tier football.”
Mendenhall has said on multiple occasions that greater access to BCS bowl games is a major factor in the university’s decisions.
“We have no intention of not being with the big boys,” athletic director Tom Holmoe said in October. “We want to be able to play at the highest level.”
The Big East, which has a reputation for being a premier basketball conference but mediocre in football, has been working to retain its status as an automatic qualifying BCS conference. The conference recently lost Pittsburgh and Syracuse — two of its signature programs — to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and another football power, West Virginia, to the Big 12.
BYU was known earlier in the season to be in discussions about joining the Big 12 Conference, but that window appeared to close when TCU and West Virginia received invites instead. Membership in the Big 12 likely would have required BYU to move all sports to that conference, but a football-only invite from the Big East would allow the university to maintain its new affiliation with the West Coast Conference.