It’s that time again, conference realignment hysteria has taken center stage in the college football world, and the Brigham Young Cougars are still involved. The big fish for BYU is the Big XII, but what if the Big XII doesn’t bite?
The Big East is still interested, but isn’t very interesting. Staying independent is the most likely course, at least until the eight-year ESPN deal is done. However, college football’s changing landscape may force BYU to join a conference sooner rather than later. If conference membership becomes a necessity for BYU, and the Big XII is not an option, no existing destination is very desirable to the Cougars.
Forming a new conference is always a possibility. Most fans are old enough to remember BYU spearheading the creation of the Mountain West Conference (MWC) back in 1999. When BYU did this 13 years ago it was a simple return to the “old WAC.” If BYU were to do it again, an outside the box approach would be required to make it work.
Here is my best attempt.
“Bigger is better” has been the motto for many during expansion. The opposite might be true for this new conference. The largest critique of the MWC as it tried to gain BCS automatic qualifying status was that the conference was top heavy. Not only was the MWC top heavy, but the bottom was flat out horrible. It has to be accepted that not enough quality football schools are available between the Pacific coast and the Rocky Mountains to form a respected, traditional size conference, let alone a 12-team, two-division conference. The NCAA requires a minimum of seven schools to form a conference, but only six schools must compete in football. This new conference should be just big enough to meet that six school minimum.
Why a six team conference?
Besides the dearth of quality football programs, a smaller conference has several advantages. November scheduling is one obvious advantage. However, what really matters in college football is winning. When conferences play eight or nine conference games a year, then the really bad teams in the conference are guaranteed seven, eight, or nine losses every year. In a six team conference, the worst team can only lose five times to conference members.
Conference members would use strategic non-conference scheduling to boost the conference’s profile nationally. How exactly that would work depends on the strength of each school. The guiding principle would be to guarantee that no school has less than three or four wins in any given year. With seven non-conference games to schedule the flexibility should exist for each school to do this, but, in the worst case scenario, still have one or two respectable games to prevent the out of conference schedule from becoming a joke. The better teams in the conference would have stronger non-conference schedules and be the flag bearers of the conference.
No conference member would ever be considered one of the bottom 10 teams in the country. If a couple of marquee wins can be registered by the conference each year, and the conference has strong bowl showings, then the national perception of the conference should be very positive.
The question now becomes what five schools could BYU unite with? Using winning as the guiding principle, how about Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, and San Diego State?
The win-loss record and Sagarin ranking for each school the last five years (2007-2011) are as follows:
2007: 9-4, 49
2008: 8-5, 56
2009: 8-5, 35
2010: 9-4, 37
2011: 7-6, 72
Averages: 8.2 wins/year (41-24), 49.8
2007: 10-3, 48
2008: 12-1, 12
2009: 14-0, 5
2010: 12-1, 6
2011: 12-1, 9
Averages: 12 wins/year (60-6), 16
2007: 9-4, 60
2008: 7-6, 86
2009: 8-5, 59
2010: 8-5, 78
2011: 4-9, 105
Averages: 7.2 wins/year (36-29), 77.6
2007: 6-7, 102
2008: 7-6, 71
2009: 8-5, 70
2010: 13-1, 16
2011: 7-6, 60
Averages: 8.2 wins/year (41-25), 63.8
San Diego State
2007: 4-8, 89
2008: 2-10, 136
2009: 4-8, 103
2010: 9-4, 34
2011: 8-5, 70
Averages: 5.4 wins/year (27-35), 86.4
BYU’s five year averages are 9.8 wins per year (49-16) and 28.6.
The positives are that half of the conference has a Sagarin ranking in the top 50, and all teams average more than five wins. How many other conferences could say that?
I am guessing most people will agree with Air Force and Boise State as conference members. The way Fresno State and Nevada temporarily derailed BYU’s move to independence, as well as San Diego State’s spiteful comments about this move and endless complaints over replaygate may be cause for concern with some. Remember, this is a hypothetical for IF the Cougars are forced to join a conference. At that point, I think any hard feelings between the schools could be worked through. Anyways, what other options are there?
Las Vegas and Albuquerque are solid media markets, but UNLV and New Mexico are putrid football programs. Hawaii is too far away. Utah State is showing promise under Gary Anderson, but that isn’t enough to warrant inclusion. Besides, what happens when he gets hired away? Sonny Lubick’s glory years at Colorado State are distant specks in the rear view mirror.
Bowl partnerships, Olympic sports, and a television contract are also important considerations.
Bowl contracts should be easy enough to work out. Whatever bowls they end up being, it would be hard to get worse than BYU’s bowl alternatives for the last decade.
The TV deal won’t be a mega deal that guarantees each school $15-20 million, but $5 million might be possible. With six schools, the pie won’t have to be divided as many ways. BYU and Boise State are two well recognized schools nationally. Air Force is a military academy with cadets scattered nationwide. Two of the proposed schools are state schools in California. They clearly don’t dominate that market, but it carries more clout than two state schools in a state like New Mexico.
As for the other sports, this might be the hardest aspect, but I think those responsible for this could figure something out. At least one more school would be needed as a non-football member. Two more would make a nice even eight, which was the magic number years ago. Idaho and New Mexico State anyone? I hear they are a little lonely, and could be very willing to drop football (at least to FCS) to join.
BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe says the Cougars have contingency plans for all possible outcomes with conference realignment. If forming a new conference is one of those contingencies, then it may be best to keep it small and emphasize winning tradition.
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