WKU watching BYU on college conference realignment front

Jonathan Lintner

Conference realignment was thought to be over last June.

Nebraska joined the Big 10 Conference, Boise State moved to the Mountain West Conference and the Pac-10 picked up Colorado and Utah.

But Brigham Young University is now mulling a move to go independent or possibly join the Western Athletic Conference in all sports except football, and WKU officials are keeping close watch on what could be the latest domino in the conference alignment game.

“Just wait to see what happens with BYU,” Athletics Director Ross Bjork told the Herald last Tuesday. “That’s the next trigger.”

Conflicting reports have surfaced over the past week that point to either a move for BYU to go independent or stay in the Mountain West. The Salt Lake Tribune reported last Friday that BYU was still thinking about the WAC, too.

“Both sides are still working on a deal that will be beneficial to the WAC and to BYU,” WAC commissioner Karl Benson told the Tribune.

The decision should be made by Wednesday, according to reports, which is the deadline for BYU to stay in or leave the Mountain West.

It’s then that WKU enters the picture. Speculation points to Utah State becoming a package deal with BYU should the two align with a specific conference, creating either a 12-team Mountain West or a stronger WAC.

The conference left in the dust has to reload from somewhere — potentially the western-most members of Conference USA — which could then create an opportunity for WKU to jump from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA.

Whatever happens, President Gary Ransdell said WKU won’t be surprised.

“We’re studying all the scenarios,” Ransdell said. “We’re tracking all of it, and we’ll do what’s best for our conference and WKU. Whether those are aligned, we’ll wait and see.”

WKU is hardly a newcomer to the Sun Belt, having been a member since 1982 — a conference membership that followed more than 30 years in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Ransdell said the most important factor for WKU in conference realignment is that the university ensures it’s entering a conference that’s expanding to get better rather than expanding to survive.

“It’s impossible to predict — if an invitation should come — is that conference trying to survive or are they trying to get better?” Ransdell said. “We don’t want to be part of a survival plan. We want to be part of a get-better plan. That may be in our own conference, and it may be somewhere else. But a lot of dominoes have to fall.”

Until Wednesday, Bjork said WKU can only wait.

“Right now there’s no invite (to another conference). There’s no dialogue. There’s no discussion,” Bjork said. “What we’re trying to do is what’s best for WKU. If that means we add teams into the Sun Belt, if that means the Sun Belt is repositioned in some reconfiguration, if that means we go to another conference — whatever the dynamics might be, we have to do what’s best for us.”