As conference expansion talks have seemingly locked in on Missouri, West Virginia and Louisville, BYU — an early favorite in projections to the Big 12 — has been left out in the cold. According to coach Bronco Mendenhall, the Cougars’ faith is a big reason why.
As a Mormon-based institution, BYU has additional rules and stipulations that govern its athletics, among them an inflexible ban on games on Sunday. Faced with potential conflicts and culture clashes, several leagues — the Pac-12, Big 12, Big East — have only taken a cursory look before moving on.
Mendenhall expressed his frustration with the expansion process Tuesday night on KSL in Utah.
“(BYU is), by design, to be very unique and someone in a conference has to want that culture with our values,” Mendenhall said. “Not only all of our sports teams that are excellent, but they have to want a school that has the values that we have.
“Those that want us, fantastic. And if they don’t, I would rather stand alone. Then my job is to help lead the program to the point where you can’t be ignored any longer. That will accumulate over time through our record. That is just simply kind of the brutal facts of where it is.”
BYU broke off from the Mountain West last year, opting for independence in an attempt to earn greater revenue with its television partnership with ESPN and greater exposure and notoriety by playing more high-profile opponents. (And to avoid taking a backseat to its Pac-12-bound rival, Utah.) The Cougars have struggled some on the field, against the Utes in particular, but are still one of the more attractive options in terms of all sports and academics available.
Just a few weeks ago, BYU was reportedly being courted by the Big 12, which seemed like a good fit for a faith-based school.
“The Big 12 has already shown that they have some interest in already doing (taking a faith-based institution) with Baylor and they’ve just taken TCU,” Mendenhall said. “Unlike the Pac-12, which made it very clear that it did not want a religious-based school.
“I know one of the criteria’s they’re mentioning in talking about West Virginia is they were in the Top 25 four of the past five years, which I think our record is very similar. [BYU's record from 2006-10 was virtually identical to West Virginia's. — ed.] Our basketball program is certainly on par or better than the majority in the country and all of our sports. So, there comes this really unique issue, just to be very blunt, of culture and we have a very unique institution.”
But the uniqueness of BYU isn’t much of a selling point in the current game of musical chairs, and Mendenhall knows that if the university gets passed by in this round it could be awhile before it comes again. So he’s not shy to hitch BYU’s wagon to the nearest shining star, Boise State.
“All of these moves are revenue-driven, they’re TV rights driven and they are access driven to the highest level of bowl games that there are,” Mendenhall said. “You could certainly find yourself on the outside looking in as one of those teams, as we are now, that have to win every game. That is simply the way it is. Boise State finds themselves in a similar situation.
“It would make a lot of sense to me, if anyone wanted a partnership and wanted a natural rivalry to take us and Boise and put us in the league and you’d have a Mountain West imprint, so to speak, and you’d have two excellent football teams and I think people would be surprised at what would happen.”