Blog Entry

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

Posted on: September 1, 2010 3:03 pm
Edited on: September 1, 2010 3:55 pm

Maybe it started in 1996. That year BYU went 13-1 in the regular season and was ranked fifth in both polls. In the old Bowl Alliance, there was no room for the Cougars even then in the four big bowls that would become the foundation of the BCS -- Sugar, Fiesta, Orange and Rose.

That year No. 7 Penn State, No. 20 Texas (both Fiesta) and No. 10 Virginia Tech (Sugar) all got into big-time bowls before BYU.

The Cougars settled for the Cotton bowl, beat Kansas State and became the first team in major-college history to win 14 games in a season. That year, BYU finished No. 5. Florida, 12-1, won Steve Spurrier's only national championship.

That perceived injustice would lead WAC commissioner Karl Benson to lobby Congress for his schools' inclusion in the major-bowl postseason. Out of that trip to Washington D.C. eventually evolved the BCS two years later.

Or maybe it was what happened in 1999. That's when the Mountain West formed with BYU as its lead dog.

It certainly had to hit home in the last four seasons when BYU won 11 games three times, 10 games in the other season. And went to the Las Vegas Bowl each time.

It was clear that the last non-BCS school to win a national championship had to try something revolutionary to win another one. That's why it made sense for BYU to go independent in football. Everything else, the shifting of most other sports to the West Coast Conference, is an afterthought.

This was about the long-term viability of BYU football. Why did it take this radical step? Because it could. It had leverage.  Utah has been good since 2004. Boise State has had one of the country's best records since 2000. TCU just played in it first BCS bowl.

BYU has been a national power for decades. It is a true football factory. Used to be Quarterback U. Lavell Edwards, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, all that.  It did win that national championship in '84.

It finally became time to separate itself. ESPN bought in with an eight-year agreement to televise BYU's home games. BYU already has its own network (BYU TV). Now it has its matchmaker. ESPN executive Dave Brown is one of the sport's power brokers when it comes arranging made-for-TV matchups.  That will help a lot when it comes to scheduling games. If that sounds a lot like Notre Dame and NBC, you're right.

"We're going forward with an opportunity to extend our reach, not to play it safe," AD Tom Holmoe said.

 The final straw might have been the Mountain West  "attacking" BYU last week. In an effort to keep the school in the conference (and wreck the WAC), Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson invited Fresno State and Nevada.

Before that, Benson had devised a plan to lure BYU back into the WAC by luring San Diego State, UNLV and Texas El-Paso.

The only "winner" was BYU. Alone. It had a problem with the MWC's relative anonymity. The conference isn't fully affiliated with ESPN. MWC games are shown on Versus and CBS College Sports. The MWC's conference network, The mtn., hasn't turned a profit yet. That BYU signed off on this strategy years ago to keep from having to play mid-week games hardly matters.

The WAC wasn't an option because of questions about its long-term viability after Thompson's Fresno-Nevada raid. If we've learned anything from this Summer of Sleaze it's that the only accountability is to yourself. In addition to the ESPN agreement, BYU also announced a six-game series with Notre Dame.

 "We'll do all we can to assist them in scheduling," ND AD Jack Swarbrick said. :We look forward to playing them."

The way it played out, the MWC and WAC were assured of mutual "destruction." Things broke down when Utah bolted for the Pac-10. That seriously wounded the MWC's chances of getting a temporary automatic BCS bid in 2012 and 2013. BYU knew it.

When the WAC lost Boise State, it tried an end-run to get UNLV and San Diego State, in a bold attempt to lure back BYU. When Thompson got wind of that, he tried to collapse the WAC. Fresno State and Nevada came but the result was a net loss. The MWC lost Utah and BYU. It gained Boise, Nevada and Fresno. That's hardly an even trade in the BCS' eyes. A net loss in BYU's eyes.

So where are we?  The MWC is now closer to the WAC than it is the BCS.  The WAC's best program is Hawaii -- if the Warriors don't go independent -- maybe Louisiana Tech. The glory days of Boise may be in jeopardy playing a tougher MWC schedule in the future. Even with the addition of Boise and the retention of TCU, the MWC lost most of its traction for that BCS bid.

 Halfway through a four-year evaluation process for that bid, the MWC is not certain to meet evaluation threshholds needed for an automatic BCS bid. (1. Average ranking of highest-ranked team in a conference; 2. Average conference rank in BCS; 3. Number of teams in top 25 of final BCS).

It's as if the Cuban Missile Crisis actually became a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. Both conferences are diminished.  There are no winners. The WAC will fill in with I-AA programs, probably from the West Coast if Hawaii stays in the league. The MWC's schedule strength goes down.

BYU determined that it could make more money and perhaps get easier access to the BCS controlling the schedule.  Spreading the Mormon faith via these stand-alone games had to be a factor too. Its BCS access point will suffer (automatic only if BYU finishes No. 1 or No. 2, "eligible" in top 14). But as I reported earlier, the BCS and BYU have at least had conversations. Don't be surprised if football gets some kind of relief on that issue. As it stands, BYU is in the same BCS boat with Army and Navy.

"Right now the BCS is not the reason we made this move," Holmoe said.

If nothing else, BYU football is going to be a lot richer and a lot more visible. That's not something the MWC and WAC can say.


Since: Sep 11, 2006
Posted on: September 1, 2010 8:56 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

Good article but from what I've read the "need to be able to play for the mythical national championship" is not the main reason behind this move.  Therefore, all those 11 win seasons that didn't provide that opportunity is not the main reason.  Nor is the 14-1 season.  The 2nd to the last paragraph provided the REAL reason - spreading the Mormon faith.  That is what should have been in paragraph one - not a 14-1 team playing in the Cotton Bowl or whatever.

Again, from what I've read, the main goal of football (or any sport) at BYU is to provide visibility for its religious endeavors.  By being an independent, with its own BYU-TV and deal with ESPN, the school can use this to promote its beliefs which are far more important than playing Florida in the Sugar Bowl for a crystal football.

Notre Dame has pretty much the same idea.  It uses its football tradition to promote Catholism.  All us football fans are too myopic to realize it, but I'm sure that's the bottom line in the school presidents office (along with money which is used for the same reasons).

So, I think this makes sense for BYU, it fits their purposes and anyone that rails on it or commends it for strictly BCS opportunity sake, is barking up the wrong tree.  Not every school president is willing to sell his/her soul to hoist the crystal football.  As football fans, we need to realize that as well.

Since: Nov 28, 2006
Posted on: September 1, 2010 8:09 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

Moving their other sports into the WCC is a huge dropoff.Yep, moving into a basketball conference with Gonzaga in it is a HUGE drop off especially when you look at all the power basketball teams left in the MWC (including the almost mighty Lobos)

You are kidding yourself if any other sport besides basketball means anything in the "other sports" phrase.





I go to bed every night and pray BSU loses every game it has ever scheduled. One day if I am good I know this dream will come true and all will be right in the world again

Since: Nov 18, 2009
Posted on: September 1, 2010 8:03 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

I won't pretend to know much about foosball in the west..imo BYU was headed nowhere in the water downed MWC..And if ESPN saw enough to offer a fat pay check all the better..ESPN or not those games will never be shown east of the Mississippi river except FSU..I watched last year and FSU killed them with an average team..Coverage by ESPN is regional and considering BYU's broad fan base it works.BUYU seems  to play a stiff out of conference line up and that helps..Also I don't think them playing ND is a given


Since: Nov 17, 2006
Posted on: September 1, 2010 7:16 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

One has to love all the naysayers who show up on here and ramble on and on about how BYU did what they did in going Independent with little forethought and that they will now pay for their mistake for a long time.  Did these folks just wake up from a comma?  Do they not realize that BYU (and many other MWC members) are fed up with trying to get the MWC to deliver on the TV promises that were made years ago?  If Craig Thompson was the CEO of a public company, I venture to guess that he would have been fired long ago.  Are they unaware that the MWC flagship station (The Mtn) is an embarrassment with no reach and absolutely zero production quality?  Did they not sit by and witness ”Versus” get yanked off of Directv (for more than a year) instead of doing their due diligence and getting a new deal in place that would provide continued exposure for the MWC consortium that they supposedly represent?  Did they not see the same cowardly action from Craig Thompson that the rest of us saw when he backhandedly tried to force BYU to stay put in the MWC by raiding the WAC a mere few weeks after he stated that the MWC was done with expansion for awhile?  (I’m not sure how Mr. Thompson fails to realize that losing Utah and BYU will render his conference less meaningful that it was already perceived to be).   Boise State and TCU are both great programs, but losing both BYU and Utah is bad news for the MWC.


None of this withstanding, BYU has BYU-TV (already in 60M homes) and the ability to fix its exposure problem (the MWC had 4 years to do something and could or would not).  BYU will have no less of a chance to get to a BCS game than they would have had if they stayed, as the MWC was and most likely never will be included in the conspiratorial pool (called the BCS) that is sworn to keep the $$$ where they are; and last but not least, by signing an 8 year exclusive TV deal with ESPN, BYU puts themselves in a position to get over the last remaining hurdle of scheduling home and away games with quality opponents.  ESPN and BYU have a longstanding respect for each other, as ESPN has broadcast many highly rated Cougar games.  The MWC truncated the relationship, but it is back. 


BYU had to make this move today.  The MWC has no one to blame but themselves for losing the Cougars the way they did.  As BYU fans, we hope the MWC survives and prospers, but it was time for BYU to take its destiny back into its own hands, as too many promises had gone unfulfilled and too much time had been wasted.  We were on a crash course for disaster.  If we end up crashing now, at least we were driving our own bus!


Since: Oct 18, 2007
Posted on: September 1, 2010 7:16 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

Just imagine how good that conference would have been with Utah, Nevada, Boise State, TCU, and BYU. It would be a travesty to keep a conference like that out of the BCS.

Since: Oct 24, 2006
Posted on: September 1, 2010 7:10 pm

Utah's fans should not be so ego driven....

Being a UTE fan and a respector of BYU as well, the obvious is that UTAH was willing to take a position for financial reasons in a geographically regional conference of high-brow but somewhat bigoted institutions.  Let's be real, you can count UTAH's all time sellouts in cozy 45K Rice-Eccles Stadium on two hands and most of those games were against BYU.  BYU on the other hand has AVERAGED 19,000 fans more per home game since 1982 and sold out well over 80 % of those games.  Utah was a despiration choice by the PAC-10.  Even I and my UTE booster wife can admit that.  BYU can go independent because it is one of five national universities (Notre Dame, and the three service academies are the others).  TCU and SMU could hvae been in similar positions if 4 decades ago they had not cheated (NCAA Sanctions) and divested their religiously sponsored institutions of the their religious missions in exchange for secular programs.  You no longer hear of them referred to as Texas Christian or Southern Methodist Universities.  Had they remained mission oriented 4 decades ago, not sold out and cheated, those institutions might have been in the same position as BYU - but they aren't.  They have small fan bases and draw poorly (25-30k fans/game) in a metropolitan area 5 times the size of BYU's.  Kudos to BYU for doing what it is capable of - becoming the other Notre Dame financially.  Now they just have to actually win 8-12 games a year - something they've done with relative frequency for about 40 years....don't think it's a problem or a bad gamble for ESPN either.  I kind of wish CBS had taken the Cougars in, but you can't argue with ESPN's history and high ratings wenver BYU appears on that network. It isn't Mormons that are watching BYU, no more than just Catholics that watch Notre Dame.  Those schools are branded and BYU is simply fun to watch play - so they draw well.  Now we'll see if they continue to do that.  I am with ESPN on this one and think it's bank!

Since: Jun 6, 2010
Posted on: September 1, 2010 7:04 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

<!-- [if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:View>Normal</w:View>
<w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:PunctuationKerning/> <w:ValidateAgainstSchemas/> <w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false<
/w:SaveIfXMLInvalid> <w:IgnoreMixedContent>false&l
t;/w:IgnoreMixedContent> <w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>
xt> <w:Compatibility> <w:BreakWrappedTables/> <w:SnapToGridInCell/> <w:WrapTextWithPunct/> <w:UseAsianBreakRules/> <w:DontGrowAutofit/> </w:Compatibility> <w:BrowserLevel>MicrosoftInte
; </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--><!-- [if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="156"> </w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--><!-- [if !mso]> <object classid="clsid:38481807-CA0E-42D2-BF39-B33AF135CC4D" id=ieooui> </object> <style> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } </style> <![endif]--> <!-- /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times
New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} --> <!-- [if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} </style> <![endif]-->

I disagree. BYU will slowly sink into anonymity in two to three yrs.  When it comes to BCS BYU has been irrelevant in the past and will be irrelevant in the future. There is a big difference in college football following the formation of the BCS.  Thus making waves in college football before the BCS does not translate to future football success as and independent. UTAH, TCU, and Boise State made the adjustments to compete in the BCS era. BYU has not been able to.  Initially the BYU/ND game will only help ND and not BYU. Utah will continue to out pace BYU in football as a member of the PACTEN+2 always ruining and chance BYU will get consideration.


AS the Good Book says, "Pride goes before the fall." We have seen the BYU egos inflate now watch the fall.

Since: Sep 1, 2010
Posted on: September 1, 2010 6:31 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

Call me crazy, but I'm more excited to be lined up with Gonzaga in hoops than I am for the other aspects of this deal.
I like having BYU in a group with faith-based institutions, as well.   It will be a welcome change from playing the kinds of fans that show up for the Utes and the Cowboys.

Since: Sep 18, 2006
Posted on: September 1, 2010 6:01 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

A few thoughts:
  • I don't think this is "trying to keep up with Utah" as a lot of Ute fans keep saying. Independence has been under consideration for awhile, I just think that Utah's move made it easier for BYU to pull the trigger. With Utah's move, BYU probably didn't see much of a reason to stay; however, I agree that if Utah had stayed int he MWC, BYU probably wouldn't be independent right now.
  • I don't think USU's AD or President made a mistake when he turned down the MWC. Maybe he turned them down for integrity reasons, but the fact is that the choice was in their best interest at the time. They were approached first and if Fresno State and Nevada had stuck to the plan, USU would be in a pretty good spot right now. Of course in hindsight it would have worked out better to have accepted the MWC's invite, but they didn't know that thw WAC was going to raided.
  • I don't know that it's a fair characterization to say that ESPN "saved" BYU here. They had been in discussions in conjunction with the prior plan and if not for a favorable TV deal promising more access and exposure (it wasn't really about money), I'm sure they wouldn't have taken the leap to independence. In fact, I don't know if they could have gone independent without the help of ESPN.
  • So with this plan BYU has more money and more exposure. And really their access to the BCS hasn't changed that much - they're still on the outside looking in.

Since: Oct 1, 2006
Posted on: September 1, 2010 5:26 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

If we've learned anything from this it's that the only accountability is to yourself. No kidding! As a Utah State fan, I wish our AD and president would have got this message.  Turning down the Mt. West, cost us a future of incredibly boring home games against Montana St. when they make they get invited to the WAC. The Mt. West without BYU and Utah is still better than the WAC without BSU, Fresno and Nevada.

BYU was saved by ESPN in this deal.  Now that we know the details, I think it is acutally going to be a good thing for BYU.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or