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Provo • Let the backlash begin.
Brigham Young University officials and coaches trumpeted their football independence set to begin in 2011 far and wide last week by saying the Mountain West Conference to which they belong is not meeting their needs in terms of exposure, television revenue and access to opponents they most wanted to play.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, they still have to play seven of the MWC schools they are spurning (Utah is also leaving league in 2011) this season, beginning Saturday when they travel to Air Force.
To say BYU is going to face some hostile crowds and opponents is probably putting it mildly, if Internet message boards, sports talk-radio chatter and reader comments accompanying online newspaper articles are any indication.
The Cougars' final tour of the MWC could get nasty, although several MWC football coaches, including Colorado State's Steve Fairchild, Air Force's Troy Calhoun and San Diego State's Brady Hoke downplayed the angst during Tuesday's league teleconference. Their remarks belied some earlier, more vitriolic comments published weeks ago when the Cougars' plans to bolt the MWC first became known.
TCU coach Gary Patterson has perhaps been the most outspoken in his disdain for BYU's move.
"No. 1, I hate to see them go because of the conference, and because of the rivalry. [People] have asked me if I would want to play them. Probably not," Patterson said Tuesday. "I mean, [they are] leaving the conference. We pick games that people think, perception-wise, will help us win a national championship."
Later, Patterson added, "I believe that BYU had to do what they had to do … and I respect that. They did something as a university that they felt like was better for themselves. But I think it is a tough road to hoe out there on your own."
For his part, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said he was unaware of any "ill feelings that have been expressed" by coaches, players or fans regarding the school's decision to take the independent route.
"I am not saying that it's not happening, but I really don't care, quite frankly," he said. "We have made the very best decision for our young men, for our program, for this institution and, in my mind, for our faith, for exposure. And I am not so concerned whether it is a popular decision or not."
Mendenhall said there's probably not much BYU coaches can do to prevent the hostility, other than help the Cougars "be ready for whatever circumstances" they find.
"Again, I can't really control it," Mendenhall added, "so I think the best approach is we continue to get ready to play and help our team get ready for as hostile environments as we can possibly through crowd noise [during practice], et cetera. And the best way to handle that is just focusing very diligently on our execution."
Air Force gets to take the first lick on Saturday, but Calhoun wouldn't bite Tuesday when asked for a reaction to BYU's plans, sidestepping the question like a quarterback evading a blitz. He was also evasive when asked if the BYU-AFA rivalry will continue, after telling The Gazette of Colorado Springs on Sunday that, "there's definitely some history there. Holy cow. Those decisions are made and … golly."
Mendenhall said Tuesday that he wants to continue to play Air Force, the only MWC school he has said that about in public.
BYU is typically the best or second-best draw for most MWC schools in both football and basketball.
But SDSU's Hoke told the San Diego Union-Tribune last month that the Aztecs probably won't continue the football series, saying "Who's going to play BYU now? I don't know if we'll play 'em. They're not Notre Dame. I don't think they gain a thing [by going independent]. I think they're making a mistake."
Tuesday, Hoke changed his tune a bit, saying, "You can't second-guess" BYU's decision. He said he will miss seeing Mendenhall and his wife, Holly, at conference meetings.
BYU "had to make decisions that they think are right for them," Hoke said.
Colorado State's Fairchild told The Denver Post last month that "I couldn't care less what BYU does."
His tune changed somewhat Tuesday.
"In some ways, I don't understand it," Fairchild said. "It doesn't make sense to me from the outside [looking] in. And also from a standpoint of just college football, I wish people would take into account a little more of the heritage and the rivalries and the past and the fans, rather than just chasing the best financial deal they can get."
Fairchild said playing BYU in the future "is something we would consider … but that is going to be a very complicated question" due to several factors such as availability of open dates and nonconference scheduling limitations brought on by the additions of Nevada, Fresno State and Boise State.
Most MWC athletic administrators have been silent regarding whether they will continue to play BYU, and in which sports, although most acknowledge having the Cougars in town is good for the bottom line.
However, Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman isn't interested.
"I don't have any desire to play BYU," Burman told the Wyoming Star-Tribune the night the Cougars announced the deal was done.
BYU's conference games
Date Opponent Series record
Saturday at Air Force BYU leads, 24-6
Oct. 9 San Diego St. BYU leads 26-7-1
Oct. 16 at TCU BYU leads, 5-4
Oct. 23 Wyoming BYU leads, 43-30-3
Nov. 6 UNLV BYU leads, 14-3
Nov. 13 at Colo. St. BYU leads 38-27-3
Nov. 20 New Mex. BYU leads, 44-14-1
Nov. 27 at Utah Utah leads, 50-31-4