19 August 2010

BYU going for it?

I did not grow up a big fan of BYU football. My father is an alum of the school, but my love and allegiance was with my hometown Hurricanes. When Miami played (and lost) to BYU in 1990, I was grieved.

All that changed when I became a Cougar in 1997. It wasn't that I disliked the Cougars, I was just a bit indifferent until that point. I was sure that games played in the WAC (stands for "We Ain't Credible) didn't matter much in the National Title discussion. For someone born and raised in Florida, home of three of the strongest programs in the country (at the time), BYU's win-loss record didn't matter that much.

Like I said, that changed. As a freshman I committed fully to the Cougs, and that has been the case ever since. The move to the Mountain West was a good one for us, but Utah's departure to the Pac-10, which did not invite BYU, changed the complexion of the league dramatically. Boise State's addition was a good one, but seeing Utah go just made this Cougar feel a little sick. They were called up to play in the big leagues and we were left behind.

This was especially painful because Ute fans HATE BYU. I don't know why there is such a visceral dislike for the Cougars. As an out-of-stater I was shocked by how deep it went, given the low national stakes of the rivalry. LaVell Edwards largely owned the Utes, so it is possible that years of frustration added to the dislike. For them to have something like this, to crow over, was pretty bad.

So now the news emerges yesterday that BYU is considering leaving the Mountain West and going independent in football. The easiest comparison is to Notre Dame, but any reasonable Cougar will admit that we are not in the same league in terms of fan base and the ability to earn revenue. Just the same, BYU is in a better position than almost any other school, as explained here by Dick Harmon of the Deseret News, to go the indendent route. We do have a national fan base, albeit smaller than the Irish. We have excellent television infrastructure. We can also draw a lot more money than we are getting right now.

What are the potential problems? Stewart Mandel talks about them here, but it includes the difficulty of scheduling quality opponents and possibility that a BCS berth might be even harder to attain. I think these challenges can be overcome. I became resigned to the fact that BYU was probably going to be an 11-1 or 10-2 team most years. It is hard to go undefeated in any conference, and having a loss in a non-BCS league means you are probably not going to a big bowl. But that is the case if we STAY in the Mountain West. We already have trouble scheduling quality opponents because of our conference, and importing Fresno State and Nevada doesn't change that. These are still non-BCS schools from a non-BCS conference.

Affiliating with the WAC to play 4 or 5 games means that the remaining 7 or 8 could be against BCS teams. They don't all have to be top-25 opponents either, just 3 or 4, and we would have a schedule that, if we managed a one-loss year or even better, went undefeated, would put us square in the at-large BCS mix. The loss of Fresno State and Nevada does put the WAC in jeopardy and I'm not sure how it comes out of this looking very good.

BYU could make it work (I like what Greg Wrubell of Deseret News had to say about BYU's uniqueness). As Harmon said in today's column, among the benefits of BYU's independence could be great recognition and awareness of its sponsoring entity (and my Church), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

Nothing may happen in the end. The Mountain West is better (on paper) than it was yesterday, and the prospect of a BYU defection has certainly been fun for this Florida-based fan to consider.
I hope they do it, but if not, we still have a chance to improve our program and compete nationally. In the end, you have to win, wherever you are.


A.J. said...

I have no vested interest in BYU, but ...

Related to the TV infrastructure, my only worry for BYU would be that if a BYU-Miami game came up, there is no way Miami would want that to be televised on BYU TV. They want ESPN or one of the nationals to get the exposure. Therefore, BYU TV could be relegated to the BYU-Utah State sort of games ... which has not worked out for the Big Ten or MWC channels ...

A.J. said...

Something I had not considered if BYU leaves MWC and Fresno St and Nevada join MWC:

With the departure of Nevada and Fresno State, the WAC is left with just six members for 2011, two less than the NCAA requires.

Ironically enough, the reports claim that the Cougars were to join the WAC in all non-football sports, but - with only six confirmed members for 2011 - the WAC does not have enough members to be recognized as a conference by the NCAA. In other words, BYU may have single-handily destroyed the WAC by leaving the MWC... only to find itself headed back MWC in all other sports.


Jlowryjr said...

I saw that also. Apparently they will have 2 years to get themselves 2 other teams. They could dip into the WCC or some other small conference to get back to 8.

Part of all this speculation is that BYU would enter into a direct deal with ESPN, so that the big ticket games would be shown there. BYU has an HD tv studio and could rent out the equipment to ESPN also, making it easier for them to broadcast from Provo.