"I think that Boise State holds the key to that question," said BCS expert Jerry Palm, owner and operator of the website collegebcs.com. "I think that if BSU comes, they will get to keep their status."
The Big East is attempting to form a western division for football that includes BYU, Boise State, Southern Methodist, Houston, Air Force and one other school, perhaps Central Florida, in hopes of overcoming the pending departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. The league hopes the additions will help it retain its BCS automatic-qualifying status when the current BCS contract ends after the 2013 season.
The Salt Lake Tribune first reported Tuesday that BYU is close to joining the Big East.
Will the Cougars join the far-flung league that includes schools more than 2,000 miles away, such as Rutgers and Connecticut? Probably, if BCS access is assured and other issues and logistics, mostly regarding BYU's existing television contracts, are worked out.
But it is not a done deal yet, and neither is BCS access beyond a few years.
"The one X factor could be television and the bowls," Palm said. "If those two parties are dead set against keeping the Big East as an automatic-qualifying league, even if the on-field performance numbers say they are OK, they could get aced out anyway. [But] I think adding BYU is a plus for both the TV partners and the bowls."
Palm added that life as an independent "is very difficult for just about anyone except Notre Dame, and it is getting harder and harder for them, too."
Another Western school with some decent football tradition, Air Force, also has an invitation, but has not decided yet if chasing big-time college football dreams is part of its mission as a military academy, according to a high-ranking conference official in the West.
As for BYU, The Tribune has learned that BYU's attorneys have already submitted paperwork to the Big East seeking some ironclad assurances, but declined to specify whether one of those stipulations was an escape clause without penalty if the league loses its BCS status.
Most national college football experts contacted by The Tribune say it is a no-brainer. BYU should pull the trigger and jump back into a conference especially if it can vacate the deal without a hefty financial penalty if the Big East loses its BCS status, or if existing Big East schools such as Louisville, Cincinnati or UConn bolt.
"It is hard to speak for any school in this situation, but in general, BYU would be better off in the Big East," said Dennis Dodd, of CBSsports.com, with the caveat that he doesn't know what church-owned BYU's primary objective is.
"The league will either have AQ status or there will be a new system that will make it a lot easier for BYU to get to a BCS bowl than it would if it was an independent."
Dodd recently wrote a look-ahead piece, after a lengthy discussion with Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, saying there is a growing sentiment among some conference commissioners and school presidents to eliminate the automatic-qualification part of the BCS and dole out the 10 spots among the five BCS bowls to the top 10 teams in the final BCS standings.
The Big East currently has AQ status because of a waiver granted by BCS commissioners in 2008.
"There may not be a BCS after 2013," Dodds said. "There may not be automatic qualifiers. It is almost like BYU [and others] are chasing something that may not exist in a couple years. That said, how can [BYU] not pursue it? I know it would be a lot easier for BYU to get to the BCS if things stay the same than it would if it stayed independent."
Joey Lucci, of Phil Steele Publications, said all indications are that the Big East will keep its status if the BCS system stays intact. There are rumblings from the SEC and Big 12, however, that they would like to dump the Big East from the BCS and also eliminate the rule that limits leagues to two BCS participants per year.
The big boys of college football
Conferences with automatic-qualifying status into BCS bowls through 2013:
• Big East Conference
• Big Ten Conference
• Big 12 Conference
• Southeastern Conference
• Atlantic Coast Conference
• Pac-12 Conference
New Mexico State at BYU
P Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPNU