PROVO — How does BYU hope to make noise in the college football world when orphaned outside the Power 5 structure?
Bronco Mendenhall’s plan is easy to explain: Schedule big and win.
It is perhaps the only thing he can control in concert with his boss, athletic director Tom Holmoe.
Those two items, more than anything, will keep BYU football attractive and meaningful on the national scene if Power 5 conferences ever look to shake things up once again, Mendenhall told reporters at BYU’s annual football media day.
“We will schedule the best teams that will play us and we will play them anytime and anywhere,” said Mendenhall. He admitted it's tough, if not almost impossible, to get Power 5 teams to come to Provo late in the season and that playing a lot of tough teams on the road is inevitable, which is why Septembers will always be front-loaded with big-name opponents and that “scheduling” isn’t easy.
He also said to remain as an independent is not sustainable when Power 5 conferences continue to earn $25 to $30 million a year and have superior resources.
I applaud Mendenhall for his openness. This is a big issue. He’s not selling life as an independent as a fairy tale and his challenge to keep BYU in the limelight is daunting.
In a culture where a dozen or so college football programs are controlling the rudder, it is tough to remain in the fast current.
Mendenhall praised the power of ESPN, BYU’s media partner that has a tremendous influence in getting games, perhaps the only entity on the planet that could get some teams to shift around as many as three games to create one with BYU.
What he’s learned is “With ESPN, all things are possible.”
True, but Cougar fans are also being asked to sacrifice. BYU is asking for more money for stadium seating whilekickoff times for Boise State and UConn have been set for 8:15 p.m. Late fall games with Savannah State and Wagner are not “feeding” fans what they want.
Holmoe said he has made inroads with old Mountain West Conference foes and it looks promising to reunite some old rivalries to fill out future slates.
BYU signed up for independence for exposure. It has worked, with more eyeballs watching them than just a few other programs. Recruiting, says Mendenhall, has been more successful as an independent, albeit not always reflected in the star rating system.
But independence comes at a cost, and how long fans will absorb inconvenient game times is a real issue outside the administrative bubble. Folks complain. Wallets aren’t bottomless.
Mendenhall also expressed his concern about the arms race in college football, the chasing of money, which has shaken the foundation of the sport's primary purpose which is, ostensibly, education.
Driven by conference commissioners tripping over one another to get the best TV deal, college football is entering a dangerous territory where university presidents have seemed to cede their control over the NCAA.
“The branding of the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten and Pac 12, those commissioners of those conferences are going head to head for revenue and resources. I’m not sure it’s in the best interest of the student-athlete. It is not being done in the interest of college football, but brand over brand,” said Mendenhall.
Mendenhall shook his head at some of the results of commissioners trying to get more dough for their schools.
“A football program getting $31 million a year? Give me a break. A lot of that is probably mismanaged.”
That’s a zinger quote some will criticize him for saying.
But I’d wager he knows. I bet for every penny spent during his tenure, he has the most wins in the nation. Boise State may argue that, but it would be close.
Mendenhall doesn’t see going back to the Mountain West as “something he’d do,” over independence. BYU has to schedule itself into the playoff picture with challenging and demanding games — and win.
The Cougars, say Mendenhall, must do what it has always done to be considered in the national title conversation or New Year’s Day game scenario: Be undefeated, or at the least, lose just one game. “Two losses isn’t going to make it happen.”
Mendenhall said that’s the same challenge that faces non-Power 5 leagues American Athletic, Conference USA and the Mountain West: They must be undefeated to overcome Power 5 advantages with the selection committee.
Media Day? Overall, it was gravy. Tons of sources to grill and, in summer, it was a football feast.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.