Friends, we can all speak pretty freely here together, right? Then let’s be blunt. This BYU team isn’t very good this season.
After an ugly 40-24 loss to a not-very-good Utah State squad, it’s clear BYU’s season is in crisis mode. Sitting at a 1-4 record with games against Boise State and Mississippi State still remaining, the Cougars have virtually no margin of error left just to make a bowl game at all, let alone a good one. With a current S&P+ ranking of 92nd, behind college football luminaries like Army, Tulane and New Mexico State, BYU’s play this season doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence that things will turn around much, even with an easier schedule to close out the season.
We can talk a lot more about why bad seasons happen, but they do sometimes. And the data would certainly have us believe that this BYU team is bad.
And what happens when BYU is bad? Well folks, it leads to online #takes about BYU’s status as an independent.
Some of those may come from more predictable places, like from Utah or MWC fans:
Should BYU go back to the MWC?— MUSS Emeritus (@MUSSemeritus) September 30, 2017
QUESTION OF THE DAY:— TheJazzyUte (@TheJazzyUte) September 30, 2017
Should BYU go back to the MWC?
But they also sometimes come from those outside the Mountain West time zone:
BYU badly needs to return to being in a conference but friends in Provo say they'd never return to MWC. PAC not interested. American??? https://t.co/ALC0zJKeLs— Max McDulin (@maxmcdulin) September 30, 2017
And lately, even from actual professional writers, like Brad Rock at the Deseret News. My guess, as BYU likely continues to struggle this season, other national or outside voices will weigh in and offer similar takes.
I can understand why somebody just #trollin’ #online might offer up the suggestion, or even why another national writer may float the trial balloon up there, but let’s just go ahead and nip this one here in the bud.
I’m even going to use some bigger text here, just in case you’re scrolling on your phone. Want to make sure this takeaway sinks in for a second.
A bad season, or maybe even two bad seasons, does not mean BYU should go back to the MWC.
Let’s quickly examine why, in case we’ve forgotten.
BYU, even when they suck, does not have a financial reason to rejoin the MWC
BYU’s still got a TV deal with ESPN through the end of the 2019 season (ESPN extended the contract one more season back in June), one that is thought to pay out between 6-8 million a year. Independence also gives BYU schedule room to pursue arrangements like their lucrative kickoff game against LSU, one where the Tigers were paid a whopping $4 million to play (BYU got a smaller share). Whatever money BYU is able to secure from ESPN, plus single-game guarantees (like the $1.3 million BYU got to face Michigan) far outstrips whatever money they’d be able to get from the Mountain West Conference, which doesn’t have as strong TV distribution.
Plus, let’s be honest, the MWC is considering flat out abandoning TV entirely in their next distribution package, in favor of digital streaming. That may make a lot of sense for the MWC, who would then be able to better control kickoff times for their schools, but is also a reflection of the decreasing financial value of their product in a cable-cutting environment. Even if BYU hypothetically joined the MWC to bolster their negotiating position, it’s very hard to imagine a scenario where returning to that conference was a more financially lucrative position than remaining indie. BYU’s marketability, even if the team is bad for multiple seasons, will not completely vanish by 2019.
It’s not even clear the MWC would vote to bring BYU back in
To my knowledge, this is the closest thing the conference has said to something official on the matter:
.@MountainWest Commish Craig Thompson said if BYU football wanted to rejoin the MW he'd be interested in discussing it. Up to league members— 93.1 KTIK The Ticket (@ktik931fm) September 21, 2017
It’s not hard to understand why Thompson would be interested in the idea. I wrote about this a few years ago, but it’s clear that not every school has the same motivations here, and many would have absolutely no incentive to welcome BYU back in.
If an athletic director would like a game or two with BYU over the next decade to fill out a schedule or sell some tickets, all they have to do is call. The Cougars have played nearly everybody in the conference, and will have plenty of open space in October and November. But if you’re an administrator at say, San Jose State, or Fresno, or Wyoming, where your goal is just to make bowl games, why would you agree to bring in a team that will regularly make that goal more difficult for you? Remember, if your goal is to go 7-5 and make a bowl trip to Mobile, you don’t give a crap about strength of schedule.
Craig Thompson even admitted as much back in 2014. Nothing has changed to alter this reasoning.
"First of all, we have not had any formal conversations with BYU," Thompson said. "Secondly, if they were to do that [admit the Cougars] then ... that's a whole bunch more losses for somebody potentially."
Plus, let’s not forget. For some programs, like say, I dunno, San Diego State, there still may be more structural animosity.
The “meaningful late season games” argument is not a compelling one
The most common argument for revisiting BYU’s conference status is the idea of meaningful November games. After all, as an Indie, BYU isn’t eligible for the automatic New Year’s Six G5 bowl spot, and in most seasons, they’re going to be eliminated from Playoff contention or serious At Large bowl bid selection by Week 4. As the schedules shift to less interesting games in November, some may ask, “what’s the point?”
I don’t find this argument convincing, and I don’t think too many BYU fans do either. The hope, if BYU re-joins the MWC, is that late season games would help the Cougars in a conference title chase, or to run down a G5 at-large bowl bid.
No offense to the Mountain West Conference, but if BYU was to win the league, their reward would be a chance to play in a MWC championship game that few people would watch, and then an invite to play against a middle-tier Pac-12 type team. BYU already plays that game two to three times a season right now. It’s just in September.
The question of bowl access is real, but let’s also be honest here. How many times do you think BYU wins the G5 at large bid if BYU is in the MWC? Two? One? Even if they win multiple MWC conference titles a season (no guarantee), they’d also need to hope they fare better in the rankings than the AAC champ (a superior league with superior investment), or somebody else. That’s making a big assumption, and a big risk, for likely minimal payout.
Right now, I think most BYU fans would trade a larger number of meaningful and interesting games in the early season for the chance at maybe getting one in December.
Does Independence still have some serious questions? Sure! But they’re not really related to this year’s on the field play
Is this system perfect? No. There are still lots of questions about the sustainability of BYU’s situation, or how it fits in with their long term program goals. What happens after 2019? Can they recruit players (or coaches) well enough to be competitive against higher level competition? Will they have enough money? Will administrative and political issues limit institutional cooperation down the road even more? I don’t know the answers to those questions.
But BYU could go 9-3 or 3-9 this season, and the structure of this arrangement doesn’t appreciably change.
Y’all can concern troll about the MWC if y’all want. But it is still a bad take. The success, or failure, of Independence goes far, far beyond what happens on the field over the next few Saturdays.