Almost as soon as Texas A&M's long-awaited departure from the Big 12 became official Wednesday morning, the speculation turned to which schools Commissioner Dan Beebe might approach as potential replacements.
One of the schools atop that list will likely be BYU.
Before BYU even plays its first football game as an independent or its first basketball game as a member of the West Coast Conference, The Upset Blog reports that the Big 12 has contacted the school to gauge its interest in switching conferences again. BYU released a statement Wednesday neither confirming nor denying interest in the Big 12, which suggests it's an option the school will at least explore.
"There is much speculation right now regarding conference affiliation that seems to change by the hour," the statement read. "Commenting on such conjecture is not productive and creates a distraction for our program. As we enter the 2011-12 athletic season, BYU is focused on the opportunities ahead. We are excited about our relationship with ESPN as a football independent and our affiliation with the West Coast Conference."
If Beebe indeed decides to offer BYU the chance to replace Texas A&M, the decision for the Cougars may come down to how stable they believe the Big 12 is. The Big 12 offers the potential for an automatic BCS Bowl berth for the football program and greater revenue and exposure for the basketball program, but there's concern that the conference could be in jeopardy of imploding if any more of its members are wooed away.
BYU's football program could just become independent again under that scenario, but the risk for basketball and the rest of the sports is substantial. If the jilted Mountain West and WCC refused to allow BYU to reenter their leagues, that would leave only the heavily depleted WAC, which at this point is not a desirable option for the Cougars.
What BYU must do now is simultaneously persuade the Big 12 that the school is worthy of an offer while gauging how committed remaining powers Texas and Oklahoma are to keeping the league intact. The WCC is an adequate fit for BYU basketball because the rest of the hoops-driven league is made up of similar institutions, but the allure of playing in a power conference like the Big 12 may be too great to pass up.