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Changes in college athletics leave major-conference outsiders more desperate to get in

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall wants to be in the Big 12. But no Big 12 invitation is likely anytime soon, and BYU and other football-serious schools clearly are sweating in this uneasy age of collegiate athletics.
by Berry Tramel Modified: June 7, 2014 at 4:36 pm •  Published: June 7, 2014
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photo - Bronco Mendenhall leads BYU onto the field. AP photo
Bronco Mendenhall leads BYU onto the field. AP photo

Brigham Young football coach Bronco Mendenhall wants to be in the Big 12 and made no bones about it a few days ago. But no Big 12 invitation is likely anytime soon, and BYU and other football-serious schools clearly are sweating in this uneasy age of collegiate athletics.

Conference realignment has settled down to some degree. But national governance is rumbling like Oklahoma earthquakes. Some new tremor every day.

The fledgling College Football Playoff. Constant demand for self-governance from the five major conferences. Lawsuits galore against the NCAA. Just when all the league-jumping seems settled, the larger question of NCAA rule and rules have become paramount.

It seems quite likely that the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC schools are on the path to more autonomy. More freedom to regulate themselves, mostly in terms of benefits for athletes. The schools within those conferences can afford it, as television money has increased again. The schools outside those conferences will be hard-pressed to keep up. The gulf between majors and mid-majors is about to widen, probably significantly.

And the decision-makers at BYU and Connecticut and South Florida know it. The schools that have tasted the sweet wine of big money and big stages don’t want to fall back yet know they absolutely will if they don’t hop aboard the life raft of one of those conferences.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty because of the impending governing structure and the proliferation of lawsuits against the NCAA,” said Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder. “It’s unprecedented times within our organization. There’s a lot of trepidation in our conference and throughout college athletics.”

And Holder is employed by a school where the milk and honey flows. If there’s trepidation in Stillwater, how about in Cincinnati and Tampa and Houston? How about at the schools that have tried hard, built up their brand and had some success but could face a divide from the big boys unlike anything they’ve ever had to combat?

Consider the schools still in the American Athletic Conference, which had an automatic berth to a BCS bowl. Central Florida won that league and then popped Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.

But this year, and for the next 12 years by contract, the American champion goes into a pool with a representative from four other leagues of a lesser god. One of the five will be admitted to a major bowl each season. The AAC schools’ access to the big money available in the postseason has decreased dramatically.

And poor BYU is trying to make it as an independent; the Cougars could be squeezed out in scheduling, no matter how good football they play.

The major conferences are making more and spending money, and everyone else but Notre Dame has no chance to keep up or even keep the majors in their view.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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