BYU goes independent

One of the first football games I went to at the University of Wyoming was against Brigham Young University. The taunts hurled in their direction from the student section are not quite fit for a family publication.

In any case, the Cougars of BYU are leaving the friendly confines of the Mountain West Conference after this season, choosing instead to strike it on their own as an independent, opting instead for the West Coast Conference for all sports besides football.

This move is huge for the fledging WCC, which is made up of private religious schools that are similar in size. Having recently opted not to expand as recently as June, the conference changed its tune quickly when the possibility of BYU joining fell into their lap after the collapse of the Western Athletic Conference.

Most of the fallout seems to be that it doesn’t make any competitive sense for BYU to do this. Except, none of the realignment moves that have happened this year have absolutely anything to do with competitiveness. They have everything to do with money. College sports fans desperately want to believe in the purity of the game, because it makes them feel better when contrasted against the backdrop of holdouts, lockouts and performance enhancing drugs of the pro ranks.

This move makes a ton of sense for BYU in the short term. It’s unlikely the BCS Board of Directors will give BYU much in the way of concessions related to access to BCS bowl games beyond the standard “finish in the Top 14” that they had while in the Mountain West. But the school can schedule whoever it wants. They’ll have help, partnering with ESPN to broadcast their BYU-TV games and that will help tons to create some marquee matchups. Still, the BYU name doesn’t have the same cache as Notre Dame (even if BYU has been a lot better over the past decade) and it’ll be difficult to convert eyeballs west of the Mississippi.

Still, the Mountain West’s horrible TV deal was the sticking point here. It was hampering BYU’s own goals with marketing itself. Worst case scenario, the two parties kiss and make up within a decade in some kind of new conference realignment. Best case? BYU has great success and manages to position itself beyond what it could’ve done as a member of fledging leagues.

I’ve been hypercritical of the Mountain West leadership for being conservative during the quiet period. Boise State should’ve been invited years ago and they would have been smart to position that league well before Utah had a chance to bolt. But their missteps are coming back to haunt them now. The league will be a 10-team league next year, which is still one team more than they’ll have this season. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they found a way to expand to 12 teams before the dust settles.

No matter what, the league they’re inheriting isn’t as good as the one they are leaving behind. Meanwhile, the WAC will need a hail mary to ensure it’s own survival. I suspect UT-San Antonio will join the league and at least one other Texas school to prevent the defection of Louisiana Tech, but if Hawai’i decides it’s easier to be an independent too, they might have a difficult time scrambling to convince half a dozen FCS schools to move up in a few years, since many of them will need to add sports to qualify at that classification.

To really illustrate BYU’s quibble, the MWC television network (The Mtn.) is only available on extended packages via cable and DirectTV sports package. Meanwhile, BYU-TV is available on the basic tier of DirectTV, meaning I could conceivable follow BYU football anywhere, whereas the Mtn. would be an added expense.

I think this move is smart, proactive and low-risk because people aren’t looking at it with the right lenses. It’s all about the dollars and cents and long-term, it makes a lot of sense and cents for BYU to make this move.

We’ll see how it goes, I guess.