The Brigham Young Cougars officially announced their departure from the Mountain West Conference (MWC) on August 31, 2010. This resignation will be effective June 30, 2011, and a news conference is scheduled for September 1, 2010 at 12:00 PM (MDT). BYU will be independent for football and all other sports will go to the West Coast Conference (WCC), with the exception of track and field, swimming and diving, and softball. While my August 28 prediction ended up being wrong about where the other sports would go, I like the move to the WCC for the scheduling freedom it will provide for football.
Two weeks ago, I called myself a fence sitter on this issue and would support whatever direction BYU followed. That is still true. I support this move, 100%. I also pointed out four major risks with BYU going independent. With the end result now known, it is possible to access how BYU handled these risks.
Finding a home for BYU's other sports
It is clear that the WCC was plan B and the WAC was plan A. The only drawback to the WCC, in this respect, is that track and field, swimming and diving (go figure, it's the West Coast Conference), and softball won't have a league to compete in. This is not so much of a problem for track and field and swimming and diving. These sports are not as dependent on conferences to schedule meets and give athletes opportunities to qualify for the NCAA championships. I have no answers for what softball can do. Maybe the WAC is still an option, or softball will have to drop to division 1-AA status. I don't know how it all works. When weighing everything, softball does very little to tip the scales either direction when overall exposure for the school is the main objective.
Scheduling Twelve Games Every Year
A few years down the road, I think this issue will turn out to be one of the easier aspects of being an independent. The best part of going to the WCC is that BYU will have no contractual obligation to schedule WAC teams. That was going to be a sticking point for me if the original deal went through. However, in a worst case scenario, it appears BYU can use WAC teams as a fall back to fill remaining holes. I think several MWC teams will still want to have BYU on the schedule, too. I still like my 3-3-3-3 plan (3 MWC, 3 Pac-10, 3 Big XII, and 3 East schools). Specifically, I would like to see the following:
Play TCU and Air Force annually.
A regualr home-and-home series with Notre Dame.
Utah State can replace a MWC team, sometimes. Maybe a rotation of two years on, two years off.
Continue to play Utah annually in November.
I haven't seen any schedules yet, but I won't be surprised if they are a little WAC heavy the first few years. They will balance out in future years to be nationally respectable.
Losing Access to Bowl Games
The WAC agreement would have taken care of this nicely. BYU was guaranteed one of the WAC's bowl spots if BYU had a better record than the third best WAC team. BYU might announce a bowl agreement at today's press conference. I am sure several bowls are interested in an agreement with BYU, but existing contracts may prevent them from locking up BYU immediately. Until then, BYU will probably get into one of the MWC bowls in 2011 since the conference won't have enough bowl eligible teams, and then when Fresno State and Nevada move over to the MWC in 2012, the WAC will probably not fill all its bowls, and BYU will slide in there. While not ideal (I would prefer the Holiday Bowl or Sun Bowl) it is a start.
The bigger issue with bowls is BCS money and BCS access. BYU will lose up to a couple hundred thousand dollars annually by not being part of a conference that has agreed to the BCS. BYU will not be guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl unless it qualifies for the national championship game. However, I believe the BCS will not pass over a BYU team ranked in the top 10. Just as the BCS invited Boise State as a second team from a non-AQ conference last year, the BCS will invite BYU if BYU's ranking justifies it. Fortunately, there has been enough progress the last 10 years that the BCS will at least do this.
Identifying a new television partner
BYU appears to have a contract in place with ESPN for BYU home games. The revenues from this agreement should far exceed the $1 to $1.5 million that BYU receives annually in the MWC. I expect more information on this at the press conference. ESPN has usually given BYU the right to rebroadcast games on BYUTV. Any game that ESPN does not choose to broadcast, BYU will show on BYUTV.
Overall, this is still a work in progress. The initial reaction from the BYU camp should be positive, but BYU has no time to rest. The first few years will be the most important. Everyone will be watching. Perform well and even greater things will come. Perform poorly and BYU will still be exposed, but not exactly as they originally intended.