BYU’s Mendenhall: ‘We would love to be in the Big 12’

BYU, a school with no conference affiliation, may get left behind because two major conferences are encouraging their schools not to schedule the Cougars.

If proposed legislative changes go through as expected, BYU will be shut out of the conversation completely as the five major conferences and Notre Dame fight for autonomy.

That’s why BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall went on the offensive Thursday, telling the American-Statesman that he’d love to join the Big 12. Although, two Big 12 sources said that idea is practically a nonstarter.

“We would love to be in the Big 12,” Mendenhall said. “I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense. In fact, if that was your headline, that would be great.”

Mendenhall explained his belief that BYU should be given equal weight as Notre Dame, technically a football independent but a school that is tying itself to the ACC. BYU’s athletic success, its worldwide fan base given its Mormon faith and the school’s television contact with ESPN make it an attractive addition to the Big 12.

“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Mendenhall said. “I could have given you that instead of the longer answer. I’m just wondering who fights for us as an independent?

“Between myself and my basketball coaches, there’s no two featured programs that have won mores games,” Mendenhall continued. “Our attendance is high enough. And our winning percentage is high enough.

“We have the entire Salt Lake City and Utah market as well as a worldwide following because of the church. There’d be a ton to offer the Big 12, because it’s a money-generated world right now. You’re talking about an amazing kind of brand.”

Then, Mendenhall added, “I bet I’d have the first plane ticket to whoever I have to see to present our case. How ‘bout us?”

Unfortunately, the Big 12 isn’t looking to expand beyond its current 10 members, by all indications. At last week’s Big 12 meetings, league commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the Big 12 was comfortable with its membership. He had a similar stance with reporters at the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament in March.

Two Big 12 sources told the American-Statesman on Thursday the idea of adding BYU has little support for various reasons.

Some league presidents and athletic directors believe BYU is too difficult to work with. The Cougars cannot play athletic events on Sundays because of their Mormon faith. And if the Big 12 ever did expand, it would be East, not West. The league would want to find someone close to West Virginia, thereby adding to its East Coast footprint.

“I think people respect them in a lot of ways,” one Big 12 source said Thursday when told of Mendenhall’s comments. “But I don’t think the time is right for talk of expansion at the moment.”

Another league source said Thursday: “Outside of the 65, they could be the best program out there.”

Still, both sources said they respect BYU for trying to improve their situation. “They should knock on every door possible,” one said.

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