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What does Tom Holmoe do now? BYU football has five 2020 games canceled, and more could come

Among the Cougars’ possible options are home-and-home series with fellow independents, temporarily joining the Mountain West, or scheduling teams who have also lost games to the Pac-12 and Big Ten going conference-only

Rain falls at LaVell Edwards Stadium about an hour before Brigham Young University faces Boise State in NCAA football in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
Questions surround the 2020 BYU football schedule, after five games were canceled last week when the Big Ten and Pac-12 both announced its conference members would play league-only games this fall as the world continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO — After BYU lost three more football games on Friday when the Pac-12 moved to conference games-only, a wit on Twitter known as @SportyMcSport asked BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe for a little reassurance.

“Dear @TomHolmoe wink once if you have something up your sleeve … wink twice if you don’t yet, but will soon,” went the plea.

Holmoe tweeted back an emoji with a surprised look on its face.

A more accurate emoji would have been that one with tears streaming down its face, because right now Holmoe might have the most difficult job in the country.

The BYU athletic department didn’t issue a statement when games against Utah (Sept. 3), Arizona State (Sept. 19) and Stanford (Nov. 28) were canceled Friday. It did Thursday when the Big Ten said Michigan State wouldn’t be traveling to Provo on Sept. 12 and Minnesota wouldn’t be hosting BYU on Sept. 26.

“As we navigate the uncertainties of the current pandemic, BYU will continue to have discussions with other universities and stakeholders to make the best possible decisions for our student-athletes and our athletic program,” was part of BYU’s statement Thursday.

Obviously, one of the stakeholders is ESPN, which has an agreement with BYU to televise all but one of its home football games per season.

To some, two of the five autonomy conferences canceling their nonconference games is more proof that the 2020 season will be canceled altogether, or be pushed back to the spring of 2021. Yahoo Sports made that case Monday with the headline: “Time to face reality: No one is playing college football in the fall.”

At least two conferences, albeit with schools that play at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level, have said they won’t participate in sports, including football, this fall. Monday, the Patriot League joined the Ivy League in going dark the remainder of 2020.

As for BYU and almost every other program, there are far more questions than answers.

However, on Sunday, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan answered one question that has been on the minds of Utes and Cougars fans since Cancellation Friday. In a tweet, Harlan said the 2021 BYU-Utah game will be played in Provo, as previously scheduled.

“We will resume the contract and go there in 2021,” Harlan tweeted. “Nothing fair for anyone in all of this.”

Meanwhile, other folks want to know the names of the “other universities” Holmoe is conversing with this week.

Requests Monday for more information from BYU were not immediately granted; Holmoe is obviously playing it close to the vest — aside from his bewildered-look tweet — as he is wont to do in situations like this. Remember his silence in all matters regarding the Big 12’s expansion that wasn’t in 2016?

Certainly, BYU is talking to the other six college football independents — Notre Dame, Army West Point, Liberty, New Mexico State, UConn and UMass — although the most desirable opponent in that lot, Notre Dame, has been reassured by the ACC that it will have the Irish’s back if more conferences go the conference-games-only route.

With the Big Ten and Pac-12 already going in that direction, Notre Dame has lost games against Wisconsin (at Lambeau Field in Green Bay), Stanford and USC. Monday, the ACC postponed its virtual media day scheduled for next week.

Late Monday, BYU announced it was postponing its football media day scheduled for next Monday, “the day before BYU was slated to start its two-week period of 20 hours of countable athletically related activities with coaches on July 21.”

“With the recent conference announcements impacting BYU’s season-opening schedule, the timing to begin required activities with coaches has also been altered per NCAA-approved timetables based on the date of a team’s first scheduled game,” BYU’s release said. “Until related determinations are made for the start of the season and required activities, BYU student-athletes will continue to conduct voluntary workouts to prepare for the season.”

In April, when the notion that conferences might opt to only play league games in an attempt to guarantee uniform COVID-19 testing and safety protocols and give themselves more flexibility in making quick decisions, a BYU athletic department spokesperson confirmed the school was exploring its options.

Holmoe “has had individual conversations” with other independents “on contingencies,” said BYU associate athletic director for communication Duff Tittle on April 30. “We have taken the opportunity to reach out to some of them. … BYU will be prepared for all situations that come.”

That time has come.

Athletic directors at Liberty, Army and New Mexico State all told the Deseret News in late April that a round-robin schedule of the independents not named Notre Dame was a distinct possibility.

“We will try to play as many games as feasible,” said Liberty AD Ian McCaw. “Again, the ideal would be to play 12 games as currently scheduled. But if we get into a shortened season scenario and it is determined that only eight games or nine games can be played, then we will obviously make accommodations.”

New Mexico State AD Mario Moccia, who lost a $1.2 million game at UCLA with the Pac-12’s announcement Friday and stands to lost a $1.5 million payday against Florida if the Southeastern Conference goes conference-only, said it will be difficult for some independents to sustain operations without the guarantee games and some might not be able to afford a round-robin format (home-and-home scheduling in the same season) among independents.

“First of all, from a budgetary standpoint, it would be devastating to lose those games,” Moccia said. “At New Mexico State, there is no fat on the body.”

BYU is also watching the SEC closely, because the Cougars are scheduled to host the SEC’s Missouri on Oct. 10. A decision from the sport’s premier football conference is due any day now, according to several outlets.

Some writers, such as Ralph Russo of The Associated Press, have surmised that conference-only scheduling might not make as much sense for the SEC, ACC and Big 12 as it did for the Big Ten and Pac-12.

BYU will also be watching for a decision from the Mountain West Conference, because the Cougars are scheduled to play the MWC’s Utah State on Oct. 2, Boise State on Nov. 6 and San Diego State on Nov. 14.

Would the Cougars’ former league take them back on a temporary basis, after so many feelings were hurt when BYU bolted in 2011?

Ron Counts of the Idaho Statesman tweeted Thursday that there have been no discussions among MW officials about adding BYU if that league goes to a conference-only schedule. A decision regarding conference-only play is expected later in July.

BYU’s 2020 football schedule as of July 13, 2020

Sept. 3 — at Utah (canceled)

Sept. 12 — Michigan State (canceled)

Sept. 19 — at Arizona State (canceled)

Sept. 26 — at Minnesota (canceled)

Oct. 2 — Utah State

Oct. 10 — Missouri

Oct. 16 — Houston

Oct. 24 — at Northern Illinois

Nov. 6 — at Boise State

Nov. 14 — San Diego State

Nov. 21 — North Alabama

Nov. 28 — at Stanford (canceled)