PROVO — Over the past 30 years, BYU has won a national championship in football, expanded its stadium to 64,000 seats, earned a Heisman Trophy, built up a national fan base, won numerous conference championships, established a national reputation for its prodigious passing game and upgraded its facilities.
Yet, when it comes to conference realignment, the Cougars remain on the outside, looking in. It's arch-rival Utah, not BYU, heading to the greener (read: money) pastures of the Pac-10.
The man who served as BYU's athletic director from 1976-93, Glen Tuckett, remembers a time when the Pac-10 — at least on an athletic director level — coveted the Cougars. Adding the Utes didn't seem like even a remote possibility.
"In those days, Utah was struggling. They weren't a player," Tuckett said. "Now, it's kind of reversed. Now it's Utah that's the glamour girl."
So does Tuckett believe Utah is a good fit in the Pac-10?
"As far as their program is concerned, I do," he said. "I'm not sure geographically it's a great fit. I'm not so sure a rivalry thing would be a great fit. But as far as competitiveness and the stature of the school as an educational institution, I think it's a great fit. They have some good sports to add, but I don't think they have a broad enough base. They might have to add a few sports to fit in, for the Pac-10 to really be excited about them."
No doubt, the Utes, who have played in, and won, two BCS bowl games since the 2004 season, have positioned themselves for this jump to the Pac-10.
How much Utah — and Colorado, the other team that has joined the Pac-10 in recent days — adds to the league is being debated.
Wrote Arizona Daily Star reporter Greg Hansen: "Colorado brings little to the Pac-10. No baseball, no softball, no swimming, a basketball team that averaged 6,267 fans and almost no new money. Utah would bring even less. The Utes wouldn't help to solve the raging financial crisis at Oregon State, Wazzu and ASU. We take it on good faith that Scott has more to his expansion tour/marketing outreach than Colorado and Utah. We take it that the presidents and chancellors of the Pac-10 didn't give Scott all of that power merely to add teams with less presence than Oregon State. The Pac-10 can use a bump in glamour, and especially one at the bank, but I don't see how Colorado or Utah can help either. I'm aware of the negative variables and politics about adding BYU, but the Cougars have a history, a brand and a presence that neither Utah nor Colorado can touch."
Pac-10 presidents, who make expansion decisions, have never been interested in BYU joining the Pac-10, Tuckett said.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, "whenever anyone talked about the Pac-10 expanding, BYU was always the No. 1 school mentioned," Tuckett said. "But they never invited us to dinner. There was never an invitation. It was always speculative talk. If they were going to do something, we would have been their No. 1 choice, according to the athletic directors. The presidents and (board of regents) at Cal and Stanford made their wishes known about BYU. I'm good friends with (former Pac-10 commissioner) Tom Hansen. He talked very plainly to me, all the time, about how things were and where we stood. It was different then than now, but there was never any invitation. Just interest between coach-to-coach, athletic director-to-athletic director."
Numerous sources who have had dealings with the Pac-10 hierarchy say the league's presidents didn't feel comfortable inviting BYU then, just like they don't now.
Publicly, Pac-10 officials have said they're not interested in BYU because it is a teaching institution rather than a research institution. Sources have told the Deseret News for years that this is merely a smokescreen. They say if "research" is part of the criteria, there are schools already within the Pac-10 that don't qualify by that standard.
Sources say Pac-10 presidents have blackballed BYU simply because of their biases against the school.
"It's religious prejudice masquerading as academic snobbery," one source has told the Deseret News. "They're trying to find an excuse to avoid the real issue, that they don't want a school that is tied to the LDS Church."
Then there is the issue of Sunday play. The Pac-10 holds a number of conference championships and regular season games on that day — in part to accommodate television — a day on which BYU does not compete as per school policy.
When that topic of Sunday play arose during a presidents' meeting in the 1990s, one president reportedly said, "We'll play on Christian and Jewish holidays. We'll play anytime and we'll offend everybody."
For those reasons, the source has been saying for years, the idea of BYU going to the Pac-10 is "a dead issue. The door is slammed shut."
Said Tuckett, "The Pac-10, like practically all conferences, have gone to Sunday play in basketball and baseball and softball. That would eliminate BYU right there. I don't think we're an attractive enough entity to have them change every schedule around, just to fit us. That's an inconvenience that the conference wouldn't want to cope with anyway."