We interrupt our regularly scheduled 2010 football previews for this special announcement from Brigham Young University Athletic Director Tom Holmoe: “BYU has been reviewing, and will continue to explore, every option to advance its athletic program.”
On Wednesday afternoon, this seemed to mean leaving the Mountain West Conference, becoming an independent in football and a member of the dwindling Western Athletic Conference in all other sports. It’s not official, but something will be in short order, because there is a September 1st deadline in place. The main question is why would BYU leave? What’s to be gained?
On the other hand, the WAC is dwindling because in a preemptive strike, the MWC broke from its stated plan to stand pat for the next couple years, and swiftly invited Fresno State and Nevada to become members of the conference. Late Wednesday, both schools accepted.
At the same time, it appeared the Cougars were poised to take their balls and go home. Still stinging from being passed over for two member slots in the Pac 10 that went to Utah and Colorado, and miffed that the depleted Big 12 didn’t invite them to join, the BYU administration has apparently decided that the best move now is to bolt the MWC and try to become “Notre Dame West.” The Fighting Irish play football as an independent, but are members of the Big East Conference in all other sports. Like BYU, Notre Dame is a religious-based institution. The similarities end there.
So if this move by BYU confuses you, join the club. “This is a move that comes out of ego and hurt feelings, and not what’s best for the school,” said one MWC insider. How else could you explain it? For BYU administrators to believe that they have the same sort of national cachet that Notre Dame has is delusional. While there is the cable channel “BYU-TV” that could air all the Cougar games in almost every sport, it’s not NBC (which airs all home Notre Dame football games) and never will be. BYU is not going to get all its football games carried on a major network (and the dollars that go with that). BYU is not likely to get the same sweetheart deal with the BCS that Notre Dame has either. For the Cougars to qualify for a BCS at-large bid, they will have to finish in the Top 14 nationally, period. Don’t expect playing football as an independent to help their strength of schedule numbers, either. In fact, the consensus among those who follow this stuff for a living is that the days of schools like Notre Dame (and Navy and Army as well) remaining independent are numbered. The trend is AWAY from being independent, for reasons like scheduling and TV dollars.
You add all these things together, and BYU’s impending move just doesn’t make any sense.
If BYU opts to stay (which seems unlikely now), the MWC would have 12 teams by 2012 and could stage a lucrative conference football championship game. We’re supposed to know by the end of the week.
If things happen as they look like they will, the second wave of conference realignment this year will be very different from the first. In June, there were a lot of winners and no real losers. This time, there are losers aplenty. When the dust settles, the WAC will have only six football playing members and can’t remain a football conference; BYU will be all alone in the big scary college football world and find out that they aren’t as big a deal as they thought they were, and the MWC will have a much harder climb to reach the coveted Automatic Qualifier status for the BCS that the conference craves.
The winners? Fresno State and Nevada will be nice additions to the MWC across all sports. Fresno won the College World Series a couple of years back, and both schools have solid basketball traditions. While not a so-called “BCS Buster” in football, Fresno has earned a reputation as a giant-killer in non-conference games. This year the Bulldogs face defending Big East champion Cincinnati, SEC power Mississippi and close the season against Illinois from the Big Ten. Future schedules include two games against Nebraska — including next season’s opener.
“The addition of Fresno State and Nevada further enhances the Mountain West Conference,” MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. “Our Board of Directors has continued to be diligent and aggressive in executing our strategy for positioning the MWC in the national landscape. We are excited to welcome these two institutions into the Mountain West. Both fit geographically and create new Conference rivalries.”