For a few days this summer, the Mountain West Conference looked like it might have a clear-cut argument to become the seventh automatic-qualifying conference to the Bowl Championship Series. If the league could boast Utah, Boise State, TCU and BYU as members that might be hard to turn down when the BCS re-evaluates in two years.
But just days after adding Boise State to the 2011 mix, Utah was gone, bolting for greener pastures in the Pac-10 starting next season.
Now, despite a 9-3 bowl record against teams from automatic qualifying conferences, the Mountain West appears to be right back at square one in its crusade to “join the party.” It’s a fight that has been spearheaded by commissioner Craig Thompson, but the league’s coaches, including BYU head man Bronco Mendenhall, have been right there to reinforce the argument.
Bronco Mendenhall joined ESPN Las Vegas with Steve Cofield and Dave Cokin to discuss why BYU isn’t necessarily an attraction to some conferences, the Cougars’ biggest rival bolting the league and how he thinks the top non-BCS teams would fare in the top conferences.
On policing players who use social media:
“We can’t be with the players when they leave the practice field, we can’t be with them when they go to close, we can’t be with them at night, so if you don’t simply just ask them and trust them to do what you want them to do, then you recruited the wrong guys. That’s really the simple way I go about it. … If there’s a problem, they’re held accountable and they wish they hadn’t done whatever they did.”
On enforcing rules:
“What I’ve found is I lead the team more by principle than by exact rules. The rules kind of paint you into a box. You’re trying to create all these different situations that you’re looking at your book, ‘What did I do to this one? What did I do to that one?’ We simply go on with ‘This is what I ask you to do and use good judgment.’ … Most of the time it works well. … The kids at BYU, for the most part, are coming to that school because they want a very different experience and it’s relatively easy to manage them.”
On the reaction of fans and the team to Utah leaving the Mountain West Conference after this year:
“I think, in terms of the reaction, you would probably have every gamut. You would have those who couldn’t wait to see them go. You’d have those that are sad to see them go, those that are mad that they’re going and we’re not going, those that are sad that the rivalry will change. I think you have the entire gamut. Really, the bottom line is the rivalry will not be the same. We’re not in the same league anymore.”
On what Utah brings to the Pac-10:
“It’s interesting because one of the things that, among coaches in the Mountain West Conference, we have always been acknowledging that versus the Pac-10 over the past five years, we’ve beaten the Pac-10 with a one-game advantage. We were always interested in saying we were actually outperforming them. Now, is the Pac-10 really superior? It’ll be interesting to see. I think Utah will go in and do very well, quite frankly, because I think they’re a good football team.”
On BYU’s attractiveness to other leagues in terms of realignment:
“BYU is so unique and we’re not appealing to a lot of conferences. Once you add a faith-based component, and that is the main reason that school exists, [it's tough]. If you were to say ‘Is attendance the reason? Are number of wins the reason you wouldn’t be selected?’ You’d say all those things, revenue generated, TV exposure, all those things are very strong. The bottom line is, for any BYU fan to acknowledge, is we’re not any other school and we won’t be appealing to many conferences because of the faith-based nature.”
On how the top Mountain West Conference teams would fare in the top conferences:
“My argument would be, right now, if you took Boise, you took BYU, you took TCU or Utah and put them in any conference, they would all do very well and hold their own. I think anyone that follows college football would acknowledge that. For someone to then wave the magic wand and have to wait to be invited. I mean, in the meantime, we’ve got to play our way in. This conference has to continue to get better and play our way in.”