In what should be a week of anticipation before the two biggest basketball games of the 2011-12 season, the week has been absorbed, at least partially, by conference expansion. It's the story that may never die -- as long as BYU is a football independent.
Adding fuel to the fire, as usual, is Brad Rock of the Deseret News. He argues that it's time for BYU to reveal its plans for the future to fans (and to him).
Forget the "We'll do what's best for BYU" rhetoric. Why not just say they're in or out? Then the fans can relax. If BYU wants to remain independent forever, just say so. If it intends to get in an automatic qualifier football conference, say that. That way Cougar fans can sit back and cheer for the outcome, instead of wondering whether they should be cheering at all.
I know a lot of fans feel like Rock. But there are a lot of reasons why BYU should not do what Rock suggests.
Why is BYU such a hot conference expansion commodity? Yes, its history, national fanbase, and location all could be appealing to a major conference. But a big part of that is its independent status -- having its own TV network and a long-term TV deal with ESPN create negotiating leverage. By announcing that it was definitely going to join a conference, much of that leverage would be gone. But according to Rock, BYU should give up this piece of negotiating leverage to quell rumors and reduce the Twitter-induced heart burn of its fans. Remind me not to let him negotiate anything on my behalf.
The second part of this is that BYU has partners -- namely ESPN, the WCC, and others with whom they've signed contracts. Tom Holmoe should not jump at every rumor to answer fans questions when contemporaneous comments could damage these relationships.
Thirdly, BYU should reveal their plan as soon as Texas, Oklahoma, and others reveal theirs. Until then, BYU should not commit to anything that is not clearly in the long-term interest of the athletic program. A hasty move or declaration could stick BYU in a lousy situation, left behind by bigger players.
The most important reason that Rock's premise is flawed is that BYU has revealed a plan. Holmoe and other have been clear that exposure is the goal, not BCS access or money; Rock and some fans just don't like it. I understand fans not liking the uncertainty, but to say BYU hasn't revealed its plan is ludicrous.The plan is clear: independence unless another relationship emerges that's as good or better.
The college football landscape is in flux. BYU is in a great spot because of the flexibility independence gives the Cougars. I hope the administration doesn't give up any of that flexibility in order to make fans, and especially Brad Rock, feel warm and fuzzy inside.