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: Aug 21, 2006
Posted on: September 1, 2010 5:16 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

BYU is going to make some more TV money by going independent but it was a terrible move for them if they want to play in the BCS.

By staying in the MWC they were on the door step of the BCS (especially with the addition of Boise State to the Mountain West Conference).

BYU will never carry the "weight" that Notre Dame does and will not get the respect as an independent to be invited to the BCS party like Notre Dame does.

Moving their other sports into the WCC is a huge dropoff.

BYU made a mistake by going independent.  They will make more TV money but if they'd stayed the MWC would've become a BCS conference and that is where the big bucks are at.

Since: Sep 20, 2006
Posted on: September 1, 2010 5:16 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

I agree that thi$ move by BYU had $omething to do with the Ute$. I am $ure a BYU game will be a regular on the non-con $chedule for the Ute$. But let$ be hone$t here. Thi$ move is about religion and nothing el$e. The Y will get it$ money from E$PN for home game$, and get to $pread its filth and greed mormoni$m through their own network, BYUTV. The di$functional group of elitist$ that they call a church in Utah have a plan much bigger than college football.

Since: Aug 21, 2010
Posted on: September 1, 2010 5:11 pm

Amen! Great article from someone who sees the

. . . the whole picture.

In reality, this is just a stepping stone move for BYU to get into the Big XII (which is in the works already . . . Big XII just trying to get maximal "damages" payments from Colorado and Nebraska before making the invite).

Conference relalignment started this ball rolling for BYU , Utah (the less deserving of the two athletic programs BY FAR) getting picked up by the PAC 10 (because of their anti-religious bent . . . notice how they only excluded Baylor out of the Big XII south when that idea was being hatched?).  BYU to the BIg XII would be a mutually beneficial relationship and makes HUGE amounts of sense. 

BYU found a friend in ESPN and who wouldn't move forward with a plan with willing partners like these?  It's gonna be a nice change for us Cougar fans to stop being every teams "super bowl" (read Andy Katz's article about BYU BB to the WCC for a reality check of how having BYU come to all the MWC venues is HUGE for those schools . . .    ) 

Since: Apr 26, 2007
Posted on: September 1, 2010 5:01 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

BYU has been a national power for decades. It is a true football factory

I'm sorry but this is not the case.  I will agree they have a competitive (national) team year in and year out but a "national power" they are not.

Again, looking at those multiple 10 win seasons and 11 win season, you have to ask yourself (just like you do with Boise) who are they playing?  Colorado State? San Diego State? Wyoming? New Mexico?

The independence move might be better in the long run, but short term it looks suspect to me.

Since: Sep 15, 2008
Posted on: September 1, 2010 5:00 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

Your post is pure BULL.

BYU has been at this endeavor for the past five years and has the physical evidence to prove it.

Everything is not about the Utes, you narcissists.

Since: Sep 1, 2010
Posted on: September 1, 2010 4:39 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

This is about as biased an article as I've read.  The WAC has become and forever now will only be a FBS feeder school for FBS schools wanting to move up. The MWC took the TOP 3 football schools in the WAC, theres a huge dropoff after that. The fact is the MWC took the WAC out from under BYU and forced them to the WCC.  The MWC problem is losing Utah and BYU together. Their solution is for the rest of the conference to step it up and most of them are in the process of doing just that. Almost all the MWC schools have been upgrading their facilities, a few have new coaches now that should be successful and fan interest is gaining momentum. I'm sure there will still be 1-2 schools that end up falling down, but by and large the MWC is a pretty strong. And having TCU & Boise St. is two perennial top 20 teams, both in top 6 rankings last year and this years preseason.  BYU & Utah are not even ranked this year. The MWC has a lot of big games this year so they'll be getting tons of exposure.  The MWC is a young conf. going on its 11th year and they've already made a big name for themselves, and they will continue that.

Since: Feb 2, 2009
Posted on: September 1, 2010 4:33 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence


I might say that the move is 75% about Utah, though not exactly for the reasons you stated.

Any decision like this must be approved by the LDS Church's leadership (they make up the board of trustees for BYU) and more than a few are Utah alumni, so I doubt it was a rivalry-caused decision. They want what is best for the school and the athletic department though the move was DEFINITELY pushed into action by Utah's leaving the MWC.

If Utah stays even just until 2012 (the end of the BCS evaluation period) then BYU might not move (if the MWC got AQ status then their is as much opportunity for success and exposure in the MWC as anywhere else). Instead Utah worked it out to move before the end of the evaluation period and the MWC's AQ chances were all but sunk. So, an idea that had formed earlier was reconsidered and they decided to go for it, with the help of ESPN and the opportunities offered by BYU-TV.

So, I agree with what you said when you wrote, "If Utah doesn't move to the PAC-10 none of this happens," but I disagree with the idea that BYU moved to avoid playing "second fiddle" to Utah.

Since: Dec 7, 2007
Posted on: September 1, 2010 4:22 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

Well written, maybe.  Well researched............NOT.  When Spurrier won his only NC, it was by beating FSU in the Sugar Bowl.  According to this article, VA Tech played in the Sugar the year UF won.  Maybe they should fact check their articles more.

Since: Nov 29, 2006
Posted on: September 1, 2010 4:15 pm

It's 100% About Utah...Nothing Else

This whole thing is about nothing except the holy war with Utah. To BYU it's totally unacceptable to play second fiddle to Utah. The day that Utah went to the PAC-10 BYU went to Defcon 1. This is nothing more than a desperate attempt to keep ahead of the Utes. If you believe anything else then (1) you don't live in Utah, or (2) you don't understand BYU. If Utah doesn't move to the PAC-10 none of this happens.

Since: Apr 4, 2008
Posted on: September 1, 2010 4:14 pm

Dissecting BYU's move to independence

I have to agree that in hindsight things could have ended up much worse than they did for BYU.  Unfortunately for USU, the WAC, MWC, etc nothing sits fantastically at the moment.  Meanwhile, BYU got the exposure and rebroadcast rights they desired (think back to the old Blue and White Network of the 80s and 90s), for both home games as well as away games that ESPN carries (i.e. this year's FSU/BYU game of years to come).  Everything they wanted.

For those interested in additional details of the latest developments per BYU, check out the link:   So ESPN was involved, and if history is to be trusted, the Ohio St/Texas and VaTech/USC matchups of recent years are just a couple of examples of what the network has brokered.  As such, BYU may well end up with an additional marquee opponent each year...especially since ESPN has an interest in making sure the Cougars have at least 3 attractive games to broadcast out of Provo each year.  Although Boise St, Texas, Utah, and now ND to name a few are already on the docket, more are likely to be added.  And that will bring the commensurate return trip by BYU to Big10 or SEC or PAC10 country. 

Bottom line is this: BYU's schedule - which was widely considered one of the biggest drawbacks of independence - looks to be ok.  Looking at next year alone they have Texas, Utah and Boise St. many top 25 teams as the Gators played last year before their bowl game.  Even with "lesser" teams around the edges and a few other mid-level teams its not open to ridicule.

The big question I still am interested to have answered is the terms of the deal with ESPN and other monetary and viewership numbers and expectations.  Well played overall by BYU.

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