BYU Cougars Move to Independent Status: How the Saga Could End

The Brigham Young Cougars only have a few more days to consider their options and work out any details if they are going to change their status for football in 2011. It has been more than a week since word leaked out that BYU and the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) had a deal in place to allow BYU to become independent in football and move all other sports to the WAC. While the media frenzy has calmed, it is certain that administrators are still feverishly working at it.

Much has been said and written about BYU's possible move for independence. Before forming an opinion on BYU and its motives for making such a move, I urge everyone to read the following two articles on this matter. Dick Harmon, Deseret News, BYU's broadcast issues boiling over and Greg Wrubell, KSL, Independence Train Not Off the Tracks.

As for the matter at hand, the BYU going independent story has four possible endings.

1. BYU declares independence in football and joins the West Coast Conference (WCC) in all other sports.
This would probably count as the last resort. While the WCC competes in most sports that BYU does (Track and Field, Swimming and Diving, and Softball would be the only exceptions) and some of the basketball teams are very competitive and well respected, this option presents concerns regarding the venue sizes and overall level of competition.

2. BYU declares independence in football and joins the WAC in all other sports, as originally planned.
Fresno State and Nevada are obligated by WAC bylaws to wait until the 2012-2013 academic year to join the MWC. June 30, 2010, was the deadline for WAC schools to announce any intentions to leave the conference for the 2011-12 academic year. That means for one year everything would be just as planned. If the move for independence is intended to be short term and part of a master plan for BYU to get an invite to the Big 12, then the defection of Fresno State and Nevada would not really impact BYU's plans. If the Big 12 is not an option for BYU in the near future, then the WAC would still have one year to regroup and implement a plan to remain viable in 2012.

3. BYU stays in the MWC for all sports, but the MWC makes major concessions.
Foremost among the concessions would be broadcasting independence for BYU. Freedom to broadcast BYU athletics on BYUTV and other available avenues to bring greater exposure to BYU seems to be at the heart of this issue.

4. BYU leaves the MWC to be part of a new conference.
This new conference has been dubbed "the ESPN conference" since ESPN would make it all possible through a television contract that dwarfs the current deal the MWC has with the Mtn. This conference would be comprised of BYU, TCU, Boise State, Air Force, and maybe two teams from the WAC and two teams from Conference USA. For this option to be realistic, schools would have to be strategically selected to ensure the new conference would far exceed the minimum threshold for BCS automatic qualifying status.

My Prediction
BYU will declare independence for football, and the school will have no ties to the MWC. Everyone at BYU from top to bottom seems set on the independent route. If the MWC had not reacted by inviting Fresno State and Nevada, then BYU and the MWC might have been able to compromise. It is contrary to the practice of BYU and its sponsor religion to affiliate with entities that conduct business the way the MWC just did. The other athletic teams will end up in the WAC.


  1. The MWC is not as bad as the mtn TV network. The ESPN conference with BYU having broadcast rites seems the best scenario. I prefer Independence so the Cougars could spread their influence across the country and the world. From Brazil to Polynesian, Africa to the Asia, BYU has fans and recruits worldwide being denied access by a very restrictive mtn network. The first year or two may be a little weak but in a few years the schedule and results could be very good. While Utah is off playing on the left coast, BYU could have a national footprint. Recruits would have to choose between a regional schedule or a true National and International exposure.

  2. Can you please explain something to me?

    You quoted "It is contrary to the practice of BYU and its sponsor religion to affiliate with entities that conduct business the way the MWC just did."

    At the same time, BYU privately reached a memorandum of understanding with the WAC before announcing that they were withdrawing from the MWC. Just as BYU was doing for themselves, the MWC acted in their own best interests. It seems hypocritical to claim LDS standards as an excuse not to affiliate with a conference that reacted to BYU leaving by grabbing schools to replace them.

    I think you need to not look at this as a reaction to punish the Cougars, it's a strategy to keep the conference (MWC) relevant and progress toward the BCS bid BYU's departure made less likely.

  3. Jack, a lot of people are wondering the same thing. As far as I understand it, BYU has been working on this for years (Tom Holmoe mentioned three years back in late June or early July) and that BYU has been straight forward with the MWC that it was not happy with certain issues, and probably mentioned the I word to the MWC several times. At any point, BYU would have been perfectly willing to discuss with the MWC how they could prevent BYU from pursuing independence.

    Even after the MWC found out that BYU was very serious about it, BYU was probably willing to work a deal with the MWC. However, the way the MWC reacted was very immature, and not indicative of a group that anyone should want to do business. I have compared it to the child who wants to have the biggest piece of cake, and when he is told he cannot have it, he licks his finger and then touches that piece and says with a smirk on his face, "Now I have to have it." That is where I draw the line.

    The way things have worked out, I think it is very obvious why BYU needed to "privately" reach an MOU with the WAC, and being a religous school should not restrict BYU from having private MOUs. I don't think any school in the MWC or Craig Thompson will tell you they were unaware that BYU was not happy and was considering independence.

  4. Editor:

    I don't think grabbing the two strongest immediately available schools to replace BYU and Utah (that's a whole other story) when you are trying to get to the BCS conference level is childish or immature. They picked up Boise already. It's an ugly yet necessary way of doing business. The WAC is the only conference with any real proximity to the MWC and frankly, there's not many FBS schools west of Fort Worth dying to get into the MWC. They did what they were forced to do by BYU leaving.

    In my completely unprofessional opinion, the BYU fanbase feels like Thompson screwed them by dismantling their destination conference. I know all about the agreement to play a few of those WAC schools from the MOU, and the leftovers after Fresno and Nevada left aren't exactly appealing partner schools for a program with the stature of BYU. I don't think this was a reaction to punish Provo, it was Thompson protecting his member schools.

    I'm a Texas alum so I completely understand thinking everyone hates your school. I honestly hope we work something out long term with BYU (we signed a home and home recently) but I think your reaction to the reaction of the conference you tried to bolt isn't the national perception. Frankly, it makes you sound more like the child in this scenario.

  5. Jack,

    I can see the flip side of this, and I am not a cynical person. The problem with all of this is that I fail to see how Fresno and Nevada help the MWC get closer to BCS AQ status. Look at the last two years.

    Fresno State 8-5, 7-6
    Nevada 8-5, 7-6

    How can inviting two teams that have won less than 60% of their games and not been ranked in the top 25 over the last two years possibly get you closer to AQ status.

    Additionally, the WAC bylaws won't let these two schools leave in time that they count in the BCS evaluation anyways.

    You are also forgetting that the MWC invited Utah State (4-8 and 3-9). They don't fit the "best teams available" category.

    Is a MWC minus BYU, but with TCU, BSU, and Air Force really that bad off? No. In fact, BYU leaving is mitigated by the fact that it is one less loss for most teams.

    The MWC had the chance to invite Fresno State and Nevada at the same time they invited Boise State. If that was really the best thing for the MWC, they should have done it then.

    The other big question is, why did the MWC invite without first trying to negotiate with BYU to keep them in? There seems to have been some talks these last two weeks, why not talk first, then invite the others?

    I expect that the national perception is that what the MWC did was logical and would be done by anyone else in the same situation, and that BYU fans are childish for taking the MWC move so personal, but when really analyzed, there is much more to it.

  6. Editor -

    I really think you guys did the right thing today by sending your non-football sports to the WCC. It shows as an institution that you want to be affiliated with faith-based schools and that BYU recognizes the unique position the university has on the West Coast amongst both its followers and its enemies. We can talk U-U or LDS politics keeping you out of the Pac-12 later.

    A lot of folks are going to beat you guys up for tearing apart a couple of leagues. That's their problem. I'd love for BYU to replace Colorado or Nebraska if the XII decides to be viable - and maybe this is a backdoor invitation, hooking up with UT/OU toward a superconference bid. If not, I look forward to seeing your Cougars in non-conference play in the years ahead.

    I felt affiliation with the WAC was a sham and partial acceptance was even worse. You boys did the right thing. I'll buy you a sparkling cider or mineral water when y'all come to Austin.

  7. Those are some good thoughts, Jack. I have preferred the WCC route over the WAC since I first heard the option about 3-4 weeks ago. The WAC would not have brought complete independence with the obligation to play 4-6 WAC teams a year.

    I think the MWC will end up fine. TCU, BSU, AFA, Fresno, and Nevada form a solid nucleus for the future. BCS AQ status is gone for 2012, but 2016 could happen. More of a delay than dead.

    Glad to have had you visiting the blog, hope you keep visiting all year. If you haven't noticed yet, I have a College Football blog: You might be more interested in that one.


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