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PROVO - Brigham Young University football coach Bronco Mendenhall spoke positively Wednesday night about the possibility of BYU joining the Big East Conference as a football-only member, saying "it would make a lot of sense" for that to happen.
During his weekly coaches show radio broadcast, Mendenhall confirmed a Salt Lake Tribune report on Tuesday that BYU has an invitation to join the Big East as part of its proposed western division and that the primary appeal the conference offers is its automatic-qualifying status into the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).
"One of the appeals to join any conference, if we were to join a conference, is that it would give you access to the top tier of bowl games, without having to be undefeated, as the conference champion," Mendenhall said.
As an independent in football, BYU would probably have to go undefeated to reach a BCS bowl game, and must finish in the top two if the final BCS standing to be guaranteed a berth.
Mendenhall said Wednesday that Boise State first contacted BYU about possibly joining the Big East, because the Broncos don't want to join that league without having a western partner such as Air Force, BYU or even San Diego State, if the first two choices don't materialize. The Tribune reported Tuesday that Air Force officials want more time to decide whether it is in their best interest to make the move or not.
Wednesday night, the Idaho Statesman newspaper in Boise reported that Boise State president Bob Kustra who has been given the authority to move the Broncos out of the MWC and into another league by the Idaho State Board of Education said there are "lots of details" still to work out and that each day brings different challenges.
Kustra said he is "still confident" that the move will happen, but didn't have a timeline for when it could take place.
"I'd love it [the announcement] to be next week," he told the newspaper's Brian Murphy.
BYU officials have acknowledged that they are in discussions with the Big East, but said they won't comment on their progress. BYU's Board of Trustees comprised of high-ranking leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which owns and operates BYU met Thursday morning in a regularly-scheduled, weekly meeting, but it is not known whether they discussed the Big East invitation.
The trustees gave their approval August of last year for BYU to leave the Mountain West Conference and go independent in football while placing most of its other sports in the West Coast Conference.
A Big East source with knowledge of the negotiations told The Tribune that Big East officials believe BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and school president Cecil Samuelson are in favor of the move, but church officials are a bit more hesitant.
Whatever the case, Mendenhall said Wednesday night that he believes the talked-about additions Houston, Central Florida and Southern Methodist are also set to join the Big East would help the league keep its AQ status.
"It would be one of the reasons that I would consider us supporting or endorsing that," Mendenhall said. "I don't have any more knowledged, really, than what is already out there. There have been communications, but where it goes from there [I don't know]. When you consider Houston and the past few years they've had, then Boise State and BYU, and you match them head-to-head against the schools [the Big East] is losing, I think the conference would be very, very competitive."
Mendenhall continued, "whether that means we join or not, I am not saying that. But it would only be if I think the conference could be exceptional, and would get better because of our addition."
Asked if the proposed east-west division plan for the Big East is "workable," Mendenhall replied: "I am not sure why it wouldn't be."