Senior Writer

WAC, MWC might shuffle off BCS radar with latest re-shuffling


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At the end of Wednesday's conference realignment dealings, Karl Benson and Craig Thompson were set for a steel-cage match. The loser not only leaves town, but also, maybe, Division I-A football?

What was left of the Mountain West and WAC after Wednesday's realignment cat fight can trace its beginnings back to the Big Ten's Dec. 15 press release that it was considering expansion. Then again, you could blame everything from Lindsay's jail time to global warming on the Big Ten, but I digress.

Pat Hill's Fresno State Bulldogs are tough, but they don't exactly replace departing Utah. (Getty Images)  
Pat Hill's Fresno State Bulldogs are tough, but they don't exactly replace departing Utah. (Getty Images)  
The WAC and Mountain West commissioners played out this year's conference realignment in miniature on a WAC-ky Wednesday that could become Thoroughly Confusing Thursday. Instead of Texas and Notre Dame holding all the leverage, there was a lot of slippage between the two non-BCS leagues. In the end both conferences had a whole lot of Jello squirming out between their fingers.

They were both alive, but barely and differently. The Mountain West because it lost Utah and BYU and replaced them with Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada. The WAC because it lost Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State and tried to keep gulping oxygen as Wednesday night arrived.

The winner: The BCS. The MWC and WAC agreed to a sort of mutual postseason destruction, thus assuring less whining when it comes to future arguments about BCS inclusion. How does the Mountain West make its case when two of its best teams will be playing in the Pac-10 (Utah) and on its own (BYU, as of Wednesday)? Houston could join the Mountain West and UTEP could re-join the WAC, thus inflicting damage on Conference USA but that doesn't change Wednesday's ultimate conclusion: The whirlwind of conference dropping and swapping assured that one of those leagues could proudly claim to be the world's tallest midget.

To recap: The WAC started the summer with as many BCS bowl wins in the last four years as the ACC has had in its history. (Thank you, Boise) The Mountain West was halfway toward at least a temporary automatic BCS berth thanks to the excellence of Utah, TCU and BYU. Then came Big Brother(s) and it was on. As part of the mini-Armageddon that almost brought us the age of superconferences, the Pac-10 picked off Utah from the MWC, setting in motion the day's events.

To recap Wednesday: BYU reportedly left the MWC and is headed for independence in football, with all its other sports landing in the WAC ... if there is a WAC going forward. The Mountain West responded by immediately -- and I mean immediately -- offering spots to the WAC's Fresno State and Nevada. They aren't exactly BYU and Utah but they might be enough to make BYU reconsider putting its minor sports in a league that, as of now, extends from Honolulu to Ruston, La. and includes the likes of New Mexico State, Idaho and Utah ... State. Never mind football, how does that prospect mess with BYU's basketball RPI?

In short, because Texas said no to the Pac-10 in June, BYU changed its Facebook status to "unattached" on Wednesday.

Changes to the Mountain West
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The last time Karl Benson was in this position, he was in the prone position. Benson was recuperating from eye surgery in May 1998 when he got the phone call that half of his 16-team WAC was leaving and calling itself the Mountain West. Talk about being, well, blind-sided. What was left of the WAC responded by adding, among others, Boise State. Both leagues prospered while fighting the BCS in the media, in Congress and, ultimately, on the field. Despite the access road blocks set up by the BCS, Utah and TCU combined for three BCS bowl appearances (two victories) in the Mountain West. The WAC also got three BCS berths, winning two.

Along came the Big Ten expansion bandwagon in December and everything changed. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott tried for the Big 12 six-pack and settled for Colorado and Utah. The trickle down forced Wednesday's shenanigans. Poor Karl Benson started the day moving his daughter into USC. By the time it ended, getting a couch up four flights of stairs was the least of his problems. A quarter of his league was ditching class, leading to this incisive observation from a source in the WAC-MWC maelstrom.

"No way academics is a part of any of this," the source said. "If academics were really a part of this, somebody would form a league where everybody coming out of high school is at least a 2.8 student."

It's been done. It's called the Ivy League and, for purposes of this discussion, no one cares. What matters is BYU got its feelings hurt. It figures it can go out on its own, start playing barn-storming games similar to Notre Dame and keep all the money. Strangely, in the BCS' eyes, BYU now has the same unique access as Army and Navy. The only automatic BCS berth comes if BYU finishes No. 1 or No. 2. Other than that, a top-14 finish guarantees only eligibility for a BCS bowl. The Cougars, in fact, finished with their highest final ranking in the BCS era, No. 14, in 2009. They were passed up in favor of Florida, Iowa and Boise.

Does independence heal those hurt feelings? Make BYU more BCS worthy? Probably not, but calling itself the Notre Dame of the West will puff out some chests in Provo. At least for a while.

There was talk this summer of Jim Delany forcibly collapsing the Big East to make Notre Dame join the Big Ten. In a variation, Thompson is attempting to collapse the WAC to keep BYU at home. But if it doesn't want to be in the MWC, what kind of partnership is that? A few years ago BYU president Cecil Samuelson was pushing for the MWC to get off ESPN because the network wanted it to play too many weeknight games. On Wednesday, Samuelson had obviously changed his mind. The Mtn. (the Mountain West's network) has yet to turn a profit. The league plays on Saturdays but its TV philosophy has basically kept it off network television and basic cable. Well, mostly. Someone will have to tell me where Versus fits in that definition

The Las Vegas Bowl loved BYU. The problem is, BYU doesn't necessarily love the Las Vegas Bowl back after playing there five consecutive years. You'd be frustrated too if you, as a BYU fan, were in Sin City five straight years, and all you could do is watch a bowl game. BYU's ultimate unfortunate fate was playing in a league with two more BCS-worthy rivals -- Utah and TCU -- and in a region with a WAC powerhouse with an easier schedule -- Boise State. BYU has a better overall football program than any of the three. It is a legitimate football factory. Its facilities are top notch. It has won a national championship in the modern era. It was also in the wrong league at the wrong time.

Now it can become America's Team Jr. as BYU markets itself as a private-school (and pissed-off) football commodity. Think about possible bowl tie-ins in Phoenix (Insight), Orlando (Champs Sports) and Houston (Texas Bowl) bolstered by one of the largest football followings on the planet. Literally. Think about BYU's own network -- BYU TV in HD.

Now think about Wednesday's conference realignment Jr. BYU can become Texas Jr. But check back on Thursday.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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