BYU officials, as reported on ESPN, have announced that Brigham Young University will make a a drastic change to its athletic affiliations. The football team at BYU will leave the Mountain West Conference and become an Independent in Football, with the remaining sports becoming joining the West Coast Conference. This news comes after two weeks of debate and rumors about the future home of the Cougars.
When I first heard that we were going to be Independent in football I was very excited! But that was also at the time when I heard our other sports were going to be part of the WAC conference. That move was squashed by the invitation of Fresno State and Nevada to join the Mountain West Conference. The BYU Brass put their heads together again and after what seemed like months of waiting, we now know the future of BYU.
I am no longer the fan of independence I once was. For the football team it presents a challenge in motivation and the essence of college football...There is no conference championship to be won. That means the sole motivator every year is going to be a BCS game and the only championship you can win is a National Championship. In the last 10 years BYU has won 4 MWC titles. They have only won 1 National Championship in the school's history. They have not been ranked in the top 10 at the end of the year in over a decade. To me it takes a big punch out of the recruiting pitch. You can no longer show off those MWC conference rings and tell kids that BYU is always in the hunt for a championship.
Will it Work?
I am not concerned about the scheduling of the football team. They will find teams to play. They will most likely force games with other independents to be at the back end of the schedule so as to not disrupt other school's conference play. They will gain more national exposure, but have to keep winning 10+ games a year in order to garner the respect they are seeking.
I see this as a 2-3 year play to build national prominence and then they will look to affiliate themselves with a bigger conference, possibly the BIG 12 when they move to make a Super Conference.
Impact On All Other Sports:
For the other sports this is a tough move as well. The men's basketball team will be tested by some of the nation's best teams. This may help further their experience to go deeper into the NCAA tournament, but it will also make it tougher for them to win their way into March Madness.
Impact on Fans:
What about the impact on fans? There are no close opponents for fans to travel and see games. The closest school is the University of San Diego. While it is a great vacation destination, it is still a 10 hour drive from Provo to San Diego, if you miss all the Highway Patrol cars through Baker and Barstow. As the name suggests, the conference is truly along the West Coast, and BYU is tucked nicely into the Wasatch Front, quite far from any coast.
Why the Move?
The television deal with the Mountain West Conference is the main reason for the move, and without any changes to the contract it will slowly force all the top schools OUT of the MWC.
BYU has the ability to gain more national exposure and increase TV revenue five fold, so why not take advantage of it? The MWC should have worked a deal to utilize BYU's facilities the same way ESPN does, but pride seemed to rule the day for Thompson and associates.
At the end of the day we are all headed down a road that we know nothing about. But as a great poet once wrote, "And I? I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."