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Provo • A widely held belief among those who are following the Big 12 conference's expansion search is the past few months have not been good for BYU, after the private, faith-based school's chances of being added to the Power 5 league initially appeared favorable.
Since many LGBTQ advocacy groups across the country started calling for the Big 12 to shun BYU in August due to its Honor Code rules that prohibit homosexual behavior, the school's standing in the expansion race has seemingly diminished.
All the talk, speculation and outright guessing could end soon, though.
The Big 12's 10 presidents the conference's board of directors will meet for dinner on Sunday and then get down to business Monday in Irving, Texas. They are expected to make a decision on expansion, although nothing is certain when this group gets together.
The Big 12 says it will hold a news conference at 4:30 p.m. MDT Monday to announce whether the presidents have decided to add new members, stay at 10 schools for the foreseeable future, or want more time to consider their options.
The three-month exercise could be all for naught, however. On Friday, Sports Illustrated reported that the league's television partners are willing to pay the league not to expand. Fox Sports and ESPN want to eliminate the pro rata clause in their contracts that lets the Big 12 receive nearly $25 million a year for every school it adds, and are attempting to buy out the clause.
Is BYU still in the picture? School administrators believe so. The Salt Lake Tribune has learned that their most recent push for inclusion has focused on the digital benefits that the school can provide, along with clarifications regarding the role of the school-owned BYUtv and how BYU enforces its Honor Code.
BYU officials have assured the Big 12 that their network, and the HD truck it owns, will be available to televise any conference athletic events they want and is not similar to the Texas/ESPN-owned Longhorn Network because it includes a wide array of programming.
It is not clear how much the protests from LGBTQ groups have resonated with the 10 presidents who will make the expansion decision, or whether BYU will make adjustments to its Honor Code.
But there is ample evidence that it is cause for concern for some presidents, and at least one has contacted BYU directly for more information and clarification. Eight of the 10 must approve for a school to be admitted.
Citing unnamed sources, the Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday that "pretty much all the options are on the table, including the possibility of football-only membership with Houston and BYU the most likely members." The newspaper said expansion has gone from a "likelihood about six weeks ago" to about a 33 percent chance now.
The Tribune has learned that while BYU athletics officials want full Big 12 membership, there are some leaders of the LDS Church the faith that owns and operates BYU who favor the school keeping its non-football sports in the West Coast Conference because every school in that league is faith-based, like BYU.
Athletic director Tom Holmoe told ESPN.com on July 22, three days after Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced the conference would study potential expansion candidates, that BYU would be "open to listening to what they want to do," including the possibility of adding BYU as a football-only member. That option would seemingly lessen concerns about BYU's refusal to play sports on Sundays.
Last weekend, the Charleston (W.V.) Gazette-Mail reported that West Virginia president Gordon Gee is not certain that a decision to expand will be made on Monday. Gee is a member of the expansion committee.
"We're getting closer to some type of decision, but it is very complicated and there are a lot of moving parts, so I don't want to predict," said Gee, who received a bachelor's degree from the University of Utah and is a former associate dean at BYU.
Gee has always supported expansion and reportedly favors BYU, Cincinnati, Connecticut and Tulane, but the president wouldn't comment on that support last week.
Iowa State president Steven Leath told the Iowa State Daily in September that expansion is "less likely" than it was in late July and early August.
"The chances we expand are a little smaller than [they] were before," he said.
After a flurry of expansion-related comments from Big 12 presidents such as Oklahoma's David Boren and Leath in late September, speculation has quieted somewhat in October. Suffice it to say, it will be on the big screen on Monday in Provo.
Big 12 expansion timeline
July 19 • Big 12 Board of Trustees directs commissioner Bob Bowlsby to explore expansion and research possible expansion candidates.
July 22 • BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe tells ESPN.com that BYU is willing to accept football-only membership.
Aug. 8 • LGBTQ groups call on Big 12 to shun BYU for its stance regarding homosexual behavior among its students and staff.
Sept. 14 • Oklahoma president David Boren says expansion momentum has slowed, adding schools may not happen.