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Are outside influences pushing BYU football to irrelevance?

By Patrick Kinahan, Contributor | Posted - May 14th, 2014 @ 11:21am

PROVO — Through no fault of its own, the BYU football program could be teetering on the brink of irrelevance as conferences across the country mandate scheduling for their members.

The Atlantic Coast Conference is the latest to dictate that its 14 members play eight conference games annually along with one non-conference against a team from one of the other recognized five power conferences (Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference) and Notre Dame. The ACC followed the lead of the SEC, which established a similar ruling the week before.

The two decisions could place BYU in a precarious position of being denied the chance to schedule games against the SEC and ACC. As an independent, BYU already has limited scheduling options, particularly once conference play begins in earnest during October and November.

An independent schedule replete with teams from the Mountain West, Sun Belt and the American Athletic conferences isn’t good enough for BYU and its passionate fan base. BYU also faces the possibility of standing on the outside if Notre Dame and the five power conferences break off from the NCAA or form some kind of alliance.

By any metric, BYU belongs on the inside with the big five and Notre Dame. If the likes of Colorado, Kansas, Indiana and a host of other programs are in, then BYU deserves the same treatment.

However, it doesn’t look good any time the Cougars are being compared to Army and Navy, as ACC Commissioner John Swofford did when asked if BYU equaled playing a non-conference game against a power five conference. Even if BYU doesn’t send near as many players to the NFL under coach Bronco Mendenhall as his predecessors did, the program is still on a higher level than the two service academies.

But hold off before regulating BYU to also-ran status. This counsel comes from BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, who tweeted: “Folks, I feel like scheduling is proceeding in a positive manner. I suggest you not react to every press release as if it’s final.”

As the person charged with scheduling, he ought to know.

Holmoe has precedent on his side, pointing to Pac-12 scheduling arrangements. When the conference expanded to include Utah and Colorado, Commissioner Larry Scott declared that no team could schedule non-conference games beyond Septembers.

An exception was made for Notre Dame, which has had long-time agreements with USC and Stanford. At the time, the rule seemed aimed at preventing Utah from continuing to play BYU in late November.

In time, the Pac-12 realized that allowing Notre Dame to keep playing USC and Stanford created an opening that BYU jumped at the chance to fill. The Cougars will play several Pac-12 teams in late November, starting this season with California.

Holmoe also said BYU has worked through issues to schedule games against Big 12 teams.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the SEC allow their teams to play a team like BYU,” Holmoe said in an email shortly after the SEC’s mandate to play eight conference games and another against a power league.

“The Pac-12 and Big 12 had other issues that were not seemingly in BYU’s best interests. But eventually together we were able to work them out. We haven’t played SEC teams a lot, but I would hate to not have the opportunity if a good game presented itself. We would be better than many of the teams they choose to play in the big five.”

No argument here.

Even if the SEC and ACC allow BYU to count as a credible non-conference opponent, the school administration must remain proactive in making sure the football program is included in any further Division I changes. BYU can’t remain as a viable independent without having access to the football playoff, which begins this season.

To that end, school officials need to investigate every possibility short of agreeing to play on Sundays, which rarely happens in college football, anyway. With most of its sports stored in the West Coast Conference, BYU can afford to focus solely on football.

The decision to become an independent was correct four years ago, but too much has changed or will change for BYU to stay the course.

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