Now that former BYU assistant Mark Pope has been formally announced as the new head coach for Utah Valley University, some have wondered, or suggested, that BYU and the Wolverines play in basketball--perhaps on a regular basis.
On the surface, it isn't hard to see why this might be an attractive idea. It's nice to help out former BYU coaches, UVU isn't likely to beat BYU any time soon, and UVU is literally just down the road from BYU's campus. Since the Cougars already play lots of other in-state teams like Weber State and Utah State, adding another one seems like a relatively uncontroversial idea, right?
Maybe, but that doesn't make it a good one. BYU doesn't get anything from playing the Wolverines, and risks quite a bit.
First, let's put aside our positive feelings towards Coach Pope for a second and face the facts. UVU is not very good right now. That's a mix of being a relatively new D1 program, its geographic location, recruiting, conference, what have you. The math doesn't lie.
For the 2014-2015 season, UVU's RPI was 308 (328 in KenPom), one of the very worst in the entire country. Its RPIs over the four years before that? 149 (when the Wolverines won the WAC regular season and played in the NIT), 297, 221 and 251. That's a five year average of 245.5. That's not just bad, that's REALLY bad.
Playing a single team with an RPI in the 250 range isn't a big deal. Lots of teams with NCAA aspirations will play a team, maybe more than one, with that profile. Unfortunately, BYU has to play a few of them multiple times in the WCC. Loyola Marymount and Pacific were near that average last year. The year before, Santa Clara was in the 300s. BYU is going to probably going to play a few bodybag games every season, and they risk one of their other in-state opponents becoming a computer point drag (like Weber State was this year). Do you want to marry yourself to another likely RPI killer, when you've been living on the edge of the bubble for the last few seasons? I don't see the appeal.
Keep in mind that while BYU often plays a game against a non D1 team each season (which is also bad), those games don't get counted in the RPI. Replacing say, Southern Virginia with UVU might technically be an improvement of the schedule, but it would actually hurt BYU's computer profile. Given the way that BYU has scheduled in recent years, it wouldn't be a dramatic hit, but again, after looking at the last few seasons, would you feel comfortable with any scheduling move that could knock your RPI down a few more pegs?
You may be tempted to reply, "But Matt, if BYU has to play a few guaranteed games against teams who suck, why not do it against a local team? That funnels money to a Utah institution that needs it, strengthens our communities, and makes it easy for more fans to attend!" This may feel warm and fuzzy, and while it may be "better" for say, the state of Utah as a whole, it still carries considerable risk for BYU.
Yes, BYU is going to need to play a few stinkers before WCC play every year. It needs the guaranteed games to fill out a schedule, it needs home dates to sell tickets, and despite a charge to fill out a difficult non-WCC slate to improve the RPI, it needs a few gimme wins in there too.
UVU fits all of those buckets, but it also carries considerable risk. UVU is right next door. The Wolverines have aspirations of recruiting from the same programs as BYU. A loss to UVU in basketball would carry huge implications for the perception of UVU in the state of Utah, and BYU would never be able to forget it. Not only would it nuke a computer profile, but the ramifications of that loss could be felt for years.
BYU could schedule Arkansas-Pine Bluff and get a similar game. The Cougars could even lose to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Utah fans would have a good laugh, it would be embarrassing for the program, but as long as BYU's program didn't fall off a cliff, nobody outside of Salt Lake and Utah counties (or greater Pine Bluff, I guess) would remember it in two years. You can't say that about UVU.
So what does BYU have to gain from this? Scheduling games isn't likely to be so hard that they can't find enough bodybag games for Provo. Given UVU's conference situation, it's highly unlikely that the team elevates their computer profile on a regular basis. Beating UVU, even in a blowout, does not improve BYU's local reputation in any way. Maybe, maybe, the Cougars can sell a few extra tickets for a game in the Marriott Center, but is that worth it?
If BYU decided to play UVU sporadically, rotating it in with Weber or Utah State, that's not the end of the world. Playing all three isn't ideal, but if BYU decided to play all of their guarantee games featuring local teams, it's defensible. But having UVU as a regular to semi-regular scheduled opponent, especially if BYU ever plays a road game there, seems like a bad idea. There are risks, it doesn't help their profile, and there's nothing to gain.
Maybe UVU can buck the odds and become a regular participant in high level postseason basketball. That might be a fun local story. But there isn't a reason BYU needs to charitably help them get there. If you want to do that, help them do a fundraiser. No need to risk anything with the basketball team.