Before I begin, let me preface the following thoughts with this disclaimer. I'm not actually a BYU fan. My connection with the university comes from my wife (a BYU grad), an appreciation for innovative offenses, and the fact that you cannot be a Mormon anywhere in this country without being surrounded by you guys. I'm an Ohio State fan who lives in Chicago.
HOWEVA, I do love all of college football, and after the recent twitter explosion on my timeline, I feel compelled to comment. After the BCS announced the basic parameters for the new top-tier bowl system (the highest ranked team in the BE, CUSA, MW, MAC and Sun Belt guaranteed a spot, independents are not), I saw many sportswriters, and even some BYU fans, clamor for the Cougars to end this Independent Experiment, and join the Big East.
Cougars, as an unbiased observer, I think that would be a completely stupid idea. Here is why.
I don't deny that joining a conference does have some advantages. Scheduling has been a little difficult for BYU, and a conference slate would provide stability and predictability in setting up future schedules. A Big East slot would technically provide a more defined roadmap towards a trip to a major bowl, although not a guarantee. These advantages should be ignored, however, once you remember that the teams in the Big East are not just bad at football, but boring!
The "new" Big East would feature UConn, Memphis, Rutgers, SMU and Temple, to say nothing of "big games" against Cincinnati, Louisville, Houston, South Florida and SDSU. Honestly, only Boise State has had a consistent record of football excellence, and BYU shouldn't have too hard of a time getting games with them, they played this year after all. BYU already has agreements set up with the more interesting Big East teams anyway, like Houston and Cincinnati.
This is actually a bit of a banner year for the Big East, with Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers all enjoying a measure of respectability. That sort of covers up the raging dumpster fire that is the rest of the conference, and as good as Teddy Bridgewater is, only a Papa Johns employee would watch the Cardinals play and think "this is an elite football team". Temple and UConn are basically Wyoming and New Mexico, with slightly nicer looking uniforms. You don't want anything to do with them.
This is important, since that Big Bowl access only comes if you're the best team of 5 conferences. This year, even with multiple Big East teams ranked, that would be no guarantee. Louisville currently sits in the top spot of the BCS computers at 19, with Louisiana Tech at 20, Kent State at 28 and Northern Illinois at 29. It is not impossible to imagine a scenario where a MAC or MWC team jumps the highest Big East squad this season, or any other year, when the Big East is mired in mediocrity. A BYU squad that goes 10-2 with a Big East + Utahish schedule doesn't exactly hold a golden ticket to the proverbial Big Show.
The problem with playing boring teams along the East Coast is opportunity cost. Even if you win those games, you could be playing somebody else! Next year, BYU has games against Virgina, Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Victories in those games will probably move the national needle more than virtually any Big East win. BYU's fan base and name are large enough that there would be significant national outcry if a squad ranked around say, #14, was banished to some late December bowl game in San Diego to play against Fresno State.
I also think it's important to remember what kind of program you are. I mean this with all the love in my heart BYU, but you are not a national title contending team. Yes, I know all about 1984, and I think that's wonderful, especially since it meant you beat Michigan. The game has changed since then though, and a private school in the mountains that makes you take classes on 2nd Nephi and throws you out of school for getting to 3rd base is not going to attract enough of the athletes you need to consistently be near the nation's elite. That's not a criticism, and that doesn't mean you can't be very competitive (obviously), just that the institution approaches football with a different goal in mind.
I assume we all want BYU to win as many games as possible, but the real mission of the team isn't to make BYU a bunch of money or get lots of shiny statues. It's to advance the university, and by extension, the LDS church. Playing a national, independent schedule with access to TV time and bigger name schools allows BYU to gain publicity in markets that may not know a whole lot about Mormons. In fact, after a particularly divisive election, I'd argue that getting Mormon voices that aren't Mitt Romney out into the national conversation would be even *more* important. My mom's ward in Madison, WI is already excited about the prospect of a BYU visit next year, and I bet folks in Atlanta, South Bend and Austin would agree. Why give up that flexibility to play Temple and Houston all the time? LAME.
The only conference situation that I think would make sense for BYU would be the Big 12, a collection of other, more conservative institutions that would provide a large enough national profile for BYU to enjoy the marketing benefits of being an independent while still maintaining a chance at significant on the field success. Failing that, I think it's better to strike out on your own. The benefits are marginal, the losses, significant.
Of course, this is coming from a guy who has willingly watched Michigan State play three times this season. This could all just be PTSD talking.