Conference expansion has permeated nearly every discussion of college athletics over the past two years. Realignment, back-room deals, disavowed contracts and lawsuits have become. Storied rivalries and historic match-ups have been set aside in the name of money, exposure, and whatever seems necessary at the moment. This movement has not left BYU unaffected. In fact, the Cougars have been riding this Conference Tsunami during its entire duration. In the end, and after much deliberation, it looks as if BYU will remain in the West Coast Conference for quite some time.
As BYU sets to tip in its first conference basketball game of the West Coast Conference era, take a step back and realize just how the dynamics of this new conference home benefit both parties.
Each of the institutions in the conference are faith-based. Seven of the nine members are private Catholic schools, with four of these seven classified under the Jesuit tradition. Other than Mormon owned BYU, Pepperdine is the other non-Catholic university in the conference. Pepperdine is affiliated with the Churches of Christ. All in all, in a society which denigrates religion and promotes a greater separation between faith and every day life, the members of the West Coast Conference seek to keep the two areas together. A large number of alumni from each of these institutions value the ideals taught under the umbrella of a religious setting and a dynamic relationship has been forged between the members of the West Coast Conference as a result. When something more than a conference name is etched among the members, a greater degree of loyalty is bred. You will see WCC members cheering for each other when matched against non-conference opponents not out of a desire to elevate themselves, but as admiration for the types of ideals that their conference-mate represents.
There are certainly differences between the old WCC and its newest member, both in dogma and student enrollment. The similarities, however, far outweigh the variances. Religious affiliation has always been the elephant-in-the-room to any conference who wanted to align itself with BYU. From the old days of the Pac 10, to the Big 12 debacle in the mid-90's, to the failed Secret Combination involving the WAC/MWC in 2010, and finally to the new Pac-12/Big 12/Big East of today, the religious implications that come along with BYU have made for some interesting outcomes. BYU should be grateful to be associated with institutions who carry a parallel moral compass and have the desire to be institutions of faith, as well as academies of learning and foundations for athletic prowess.
BYU fans unhappy with the move will always look at the small gym sizes, the lack of name-brand opponents not named Gonzaga, and the desire to move to a more prestigious conference as a way fuel the negativity fire. My suggestion is leave all that nonsense at the door. Brigham Young University is a unique institution and, for the first time in its history, has equally unique institutional partners to compete with in an athletic forum. We must ask ourselves if the pull of the world and the promises of greater riches and notoriety are worth aligning with institutions who do no carry our values. The grass is not alway greener. In fact, it almost never is. With the WCC, however, it just might be. Gone are the days when bigotry and sport went hand-in-hand. Distant are the memories of being looked upon as conceited for holding to deeply held values. Tonight will be the first experience many BYU fans will have with our newly minted conference brethren. Here's to hoping that after all is said and done, that BYU and the WCC will prove that loyalty can be etched in ink thicker than a conference name alone.