You Betta Hide Ya Kids, Hide Ya Wife and Ya Husband, Too
Cause the Mormons are Independent and On the Loose.
In the words of the immortal poets Nappy Roots, "Aw Naw! Hell Naw! Man, Yall up and done it!" BYU made good on their threat and up and left the Mountain West. Despite Craig Thompson completely cock blocking their exit to the WAC, and despite the fact that pretty much no one thinks it's a good idea outside of Provo, UT, the Cougars are taking their talents to the West Coast Conference, home of the Gonzaga Bulldogs and... anyone? Like most of you, I kind of thought this whole thing had blown over, that Craig Thompson had drunk their milkshake and that they would come crawling back with their tail between their legs, try to put a winning team on the field the next couple of years and competitively position themselves for the inevitable next round of Conference expansion talk. However, reports started surfacing yesterday that leaving the MWC was very much still on the table and that the WCC was a likely option and I kind of resigned myself to their future absence.
So I guess the first question is this: What happened? Why did BYU decide they'd had enough and that they wanted to strike out on their own? They're going to tell you that it's about the money, that they're banking on America catching all of their games on the BYU Network, a network that, everytime I've happened to notice it way up there in the three or four hundreds, has either been showing a church service or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Seriously, as I type this it's showing "Discussions on the Old Testament," something relevant to the core audience of the network, but doesn't exactly scream football to the average fan. But, despite this, BYU can rumoredly make twice as much money - each MWC currently makes around $1.5 millionish in our TV contract, so it's not exactly difficult to imagine they will meet this goal - so I suppose those facts are there. The real reason they left though?
The Utah Utes.
We knew BYU was really, really stung by Utah getting the Pac 10 invite over themselves. We just didn't know how much. I think a lot of this ignorance can be attributed to the lack of knowledge most of the country has regarding the animosity between the two schools. Because, honestly, the Holy War is easily one of the nastiest rivalries in the NCAA. Those people HATE each other. Like, Palestine/Israel Hate. Or Jennifer Aniston/Angelina Jolie Hate. Honestly, if I were the Ute fans, I might read up on some of the bloody history of the BYU faithful before getting too involved in fighting with the Cougars, but apparently it's a risk they're willing to take. But anyway, so yeah, that really really killed BYU. And then, to add insult to injury, it became apparent that, due to future scheduling conflicts, it was highly unlikely that the Holy War would even continue. Why they couldn't sign an agreement ala Colorado/Colorado State or Iowa/Iowa State where they play every year despite the conference affiliations I do not know. But, even if they could, I have to imagine that, due to already agreed upon scheduling, this would have to wait a few years to come to fruition, and in the meantime the game would be postponed. So if BYU could have been guaranteed that they would have a shot at their rival every year despite being in different conferences would they have stayed? Who's to say? But, by going independent, they're free to schedule 12 games a year against whomever they can get to agree to play them, and certainly the powers that be in the state of Utah will work to keep that rivalry alive.
So, what about the rest of the schedule? With the WAC in its two weeks ago version, this would've been an easy fix for the Cougars. Get a few of the upper tier WAC teams to agree to play them on a yearly basis, get Utah on board, then fill in the gaps sort of like Notre Dame does with the Big Ten and the Service Academis. Now? I don't know what they do. The WCC doesn't offer football, so there goes that. And I think it's safe to say that the WAC and MWC will not be interested in throwing the Cougars a bone anytime soon. They have a home/home series scheduled with Texas in the next few years, and they'll work out the details with Utah... but who else? Utah State was a usual rival, but will the WAC allow them to put them on the schedule?
Basically, whether they will admit it or not, the Cougars are making some DANGEROUS assumptions about this move and it's pretty much all or nothing at this point.
After all of the uproar they caused a few weeks ago with wanting to join the WAC and then getting slapped by Craig Thompson, they had to do something. And when you consider the Utah sleight, it all comes down to one thing: Pride. BYU fancies themselves something of a major player in the NCAA and after all of their antics, they were no longer going to be the top dog in the MWC - and you can certainly argue they were anything but that already- and would certainly be playing second fiddle in their state. So they basically had two options: Sit back and admit their folly, or take the plunge and hope their wild assed speculations were right. They did the second, and now they must wait. If they can convince a bunch of major conference schools to play them in non conference games, win those, and get a BCS bid, and all the while rack up bigger numbers on the BYU Network than they did on the mtn. or CBS CS, then this was a genius move. They'll establish themselves as an upper echelon team and then be extremely attractive to any conference looking to expand in the future because not only do they have a successful football team and an huge fanbase, they'll also be attractive to the TV networks - TV contracts are pretty much the bread and butter of the super conference talks - and they also won't have a pesky buyout situation to maneuver in such a situation since they'd be their own boss.
Considering they're going to have to scramble to fill their future schedules, and that they couldn't qualify for a BCS game in the Mountain West, these are some MAJOR what ifs.
But, the BIGGEST question is, what does this mean for the MWC? Well, I'm not of the "circle the wagons and hide the women and children" belief yet... but honestly, it doesn't look that great for the future. You could try and argue that, when Nevada and Fresno State are up in football, having two good teams is better than one, but in this case I'm not sure that's true. On the one hand, the biggest thing holding the MWC back was the lack of competitive middle tier teams, and Nevada and Fresno State certainly bring that. But, BYU was a perennial Top 15 finisher, which seriously helped our case and losing that hurts us in the other two categories. Obviously Boise and TCU will carry most of that workload, but having a third team was certainly a boost. More so, despite our current BYU hate, they have more clout than we want to give them credit for, and that was a perception boost on its own merit when it comes to TV contracts and the like.
However, I kind of trust Craig Thompson to pull us out of this at least relatively unscathed. Clearly we think that he should extend invites to southern teams such as Houston or SMU, and I think that will certainly be on the table. As far as what's not on the table, I don't think the Big 12 is going to come calling, at least not right now. So, we're in this for a while. The good news is we now only have one major competitor in our way when it comes to running the MWC and picking up the auto bid rather than two. The bad news is, we're now going to fight the SOS battle that the Broncos have been fighting the past few years. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years.
The bottom line though? BYU is easily the most hated team west of the Mississippi right now. Think about it - the WAC is more or less ruined, and the MWC is weakened. The WAC now has the option of trying to pick off some CUSA or D-IAA teams, which is certainly not attractive to anyone. And honestly, would the CUSA teams jump? That's a much better situation at present. And adding D-IAA teams will make the WAC the new Sun Belt Conference for a good long while and maybe forever. Let's just hope this hate transcends regional boundaries and stretches across the entire country, because while BYU is filling its schedule with service academies and Big Sky teams, I'll be peeing on their grave and caressing our MWC and BCS Trophies.