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BYU still holds keys to future of MWC

The irony is that, even after days of sources both highly placed and somewhat unreliable forecasting which avenue Brigham Young might follow with its football program, of the Mountain West Conference adding two teams and the Western Athletic Conference being given last rites as a legitimate football league, of reports that a super conference of non-Bowl Championship Series programs is on the way, one thing remained constant:

BYU still holds the keys to deciding the immediate future of the Mountain West and its hope for automatic BCS inclusion.

Word from Provo, whenever it comes, will define what, if any, other expansion/independent/merging dominoes fall.

Craig Thompson didn’t meet with Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky in Colorado on Thursday to discuss favorite vacation spots or what to include in a note of condolence to Karl Benson.

Chasing the BCS dream has become a by-the-second pursuit for leagues without automatic status. Thompson as Mountain West commissioner chases it the way a greyhound pursues the mechanical rabbit.

It’s an interesting scenario that reports indicate came from the Colorado Summit of Two Commissioners, a possible merger of 20 teams from the Mountain West and Conference USA with the champion being awarded an automatic BCS berth.

It also comes with some major questions.

Which teams would be invited from both leagues?

Would there be a divisional split and a conference championship game to decide the BCS berth or a 20-team, winner-take-all format?

Would there be enough BCS and TV revenue available to make blowing up two leagues and forming a giant one make sense?

Would a network like ESPN jump at the opportunity to showcase such a conference, if only to prove it is willing to highlight something that isn’t BCS football power leagues or Duke basketball?

Would the conference media ignore any Marshall news releases for lack of interesting comments from its athletic director?

“The devil is always in the details when negotiating,” UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood said. “When you are talking about 20, 22, 24 teams, that’s splitting the pie a lot of ways. But the thing is, the BCS money is growing, not diminishing. Television contracts aren’t worth any less nowadays.

“I think the best option for the Mountain West, certainly, is for BYU to stay. But if that doesn’t happen and the (Mountain West and Conference USA) came together with the right number of schools and a championship game, it would be very, very, very, very hard for the BCS not to consider awarding the winner an automatic berth.”

Livengood spent six years sitting at the BCS table as its Pac-10 representative. He knows what most with a clue do — that should BYU’s church elders decide against going independent in football and instead inform its university to remain in the Mountain West, the league’s best chance at a BCS berth is simply waiting to compare success numbers when the current four-year evaluation process ends and automatic status is determined for 2012 and 2013.

Fresno State and UNR do nothing to help the Mountain West’s overall image of being BCS worthy, but they strengthen the league’s middle section. Houston could play a similar role as a 12th member should BYU stay and Thompson pick up the telephone with another invitation.

“Eleven (teams) is a really awkward number,” Livengood said. “I don’t know if a conference championship game is always the best thing — the coaches and athletic directors in the Big 12 found it wasn’t the golden goose many had believed — but in this context, we have to do something to spur interest in football and more so our conference.

“From my time at that (BCS) table, I think at the end of the day those involved are going to say, ‘We’re not going to fight this thing forever and have to make it look like more progress is being made.’ My best guess is, they do not want Congress to get involved, but if something doesn’t happen, at some point there’s going to be intervention.”

There is a reason Thompson on Friday told an ESPN reporter that his league has shown a willingness to work through some TV issues with BYU. The Mountain West is going to make it hard for the Cougars to walk, and if it means agreeing to concessions regarding TV deals, so be it.

If it doesn’t work and the Mountain West is left without BYU, merging with Conference USA has to be examined. So does exploring all TV options with ESPN. Everything goes onto the table.

But for now, all await word from Provo.

That much hasn’t changed at all the last 72 hours.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618.

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