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For BYU, independence day is a blast

PROVO, Utah — Brigham Young is perfectly happy with “Plan B.”

Two weeks after BYU’s original intention to go independent in football collapsed in a matter of hours, athletic director Tom Holmoe made the announcement Wednesday that has been haunting him for much of the past month: The Cougars are going solo in football, accepting the many risks with the hopes of greater rewards.

BYU’s other sports have found a new home in the West Coast Conference, a nonfootball league that turned out to be an ideal fit after BYU’s deal with the Western Athletic Conference fell apart Aug. 18.

“I’d say it was exhilarating, fun, hard, terrible, great — and done,” Holmoe said with a weary smile during a news conference at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Holmoe said BYU is trying to gain more exposure and immediately announced two moves that will get the Cougars noticed.

BYU and ESPN have reached an eight-year deal for the network or one of its affiliates to broadcast the Cougars’ home football games, which at the moment are a lot of open dates.

Holmoe said scheduling as one of just four independents in major college football was an obvious risk that BYU considered but felt the Cougars still have enough name recognition and a large fan base that should make building a schedule without eight conference games at least a little easier.

One of the future opponents will probably be Notre Dame, which Holmoe said is working with BYU to iron out the details on a six-game deal through 2020. Another is archrival Utah, which is also leaving the Mountain West after getting an invitation to join the Pac-10 next year.

Holmoe said he has been talking with Utah athletic director Chris Hill about ways to keep the annual rivalry alive even though the teams are no longer in the same conference.

“We both are in agreement in that it’s an important game to continue,” Holmoe said.

The Cougars will also be without the Mountain West’s guaranteed bowl spots, and there will be no league title to try to win. But Holmoe said BYU will have more chances to play in the spotlight on ESPN, where BYU was a regular when the network was still a cable newcomer.

With quarterbacks such as Jim McMahon, Steve Young and many, many others launching passes on nearly every offensive play, the Cougars were good TV.

“We had a lot of exciting games. We started throwing the football before anybody else did, and so that right away created a lot of excitement,” former coach LaVell Edwards said after the announcement. “ESPN was a new company, and we were kind of the new kids on the block. We just kind of grew up together that way.”

Edwards said he was initially leery of the independence idea until he got a call from Holmoe — one of his former players — on Tuesday explaining what was being planned and why.

Holmoe’s dealings over the last two weeks had been so undercover that even Edwards was out of the loop. Edwards could have probably learned whatever he wanted to know with a quick call, but said he didn’t want to interfere with something the athletic department was so adamant about keeping quiet so it would hopefully go through this time.

“I’m excited about it,” Edwards said. “I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes.”

BYU had a deal in place with the WAC that would have allowed the Cougars to join the league in all sports but football. It nearly happened, but the Mountain West blocked the move by getting Fresno State and UNR to join the MWC. That left the Mountain West protected if BYU did depart and didn’t give the Cougars much of a destination if they chose to exit before the Sept. 1 deadline.

 

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