Posted by Bryan Fischer
Happy Independence Day everyone. It's been a remarkable 235 years but America is still going strong despite plenty of ups and downs. On the gridiron, it seems like Notre Dame, Navy and others have been independent of conference overlords for just as long. With BYU joining their ranks last week and in honor of the holiday, it's a perfect time to look at what programs could follow their lead and go out on their own.
While it's doubtful that any of these programs will actually pursue going independence in the near future, perhaps they could/would/should on second thought. Feel free to bring up some other programs that could go out on their own in the comments below.
The Broncos have made quite the run the past few years, winning two BCS bowls and posting a remarkable three undefeated seasons. Boise State was originally a junior college who has, rather quickly, risen in the ranks from an independent in Division II to their current place in the Mountain West. Their wide-open style of play and ability to beat more talented teams has certainly earned them a national reputation and with that comes eyeballs. For example, last season's game against Virginia Tech earned a 6.8 overnight rating, making it the highest rated Labor Day night game since 1990.
From the Blue Turf to the trick plays, a lot of what has made Boise State football a national brand is due to the exposure they get on ESPN. For years they had several featured games on the network and, even if they were on late at night on the East Coast, people were at least able to see the games. Boise State is losing a lot of that exposure with the move to the Mountain West (with games on The Mtn. and Versus) in exchange for an increase in television revenue, which is expected to be around $800,000 a year based on the current conference agreements. If Boise State gets unhappy with the arrangement and decides to go independent, they could follow the lead of BYU. The Cougars recently signed a deal with ESPN to televise several football games with estimates putting the value of the deal at between $800,000 and $1.2 million per home game. As a program with a love-them-or-hate-them reputation that causes people to tune in, going independent might make sense down the road.
If there's one team on this list that is actually familiar with football independence, it's Florida State. The Seminoles were conference-less from 1951-1991 prior to joining the ACC. In a curious twist of fate, the school was invited by the ACC to join their conference but were rejected by the SEC. Regardless, Florida State is aware of what it takes to be an independent and what challenges and benefits come with it. While most believe their relationship with the ACC is a good one, one never knows what will happen if another wave of conference realignment hits. The ACC is, mostly, a basketball-centric league and as winners of two somewhat recent national titles, Florida State is much more of a football school than the conference's other members.
Scheduling always gets tricky but Florida State has a long history of playing both Miami and Florida. Both games are usually big ratings winners so, like Boise State, the program would likely do well financially getting a majority of the television money versus splitting it with fellow conference members. Throw in nearby UCF and USF and the Seminoles could have nearly half a schedule from in-state programs alone. Add in a big name program, such as the one against Oklahoma this year, and Florida State could get back to being a much bigger draw nationally like they were in the 1990's. Of course, as with most Florida teams, they'd also have to win to stay relevant.
The way things are going with the NCAA investigation into Oregon's football and basketball programs, it's likely more than a few Ducks fans have thought about leaving the NCAA altogether, much less the Pac-12. While the program itself hasn't seen much success on the gridiron outside of the past decade, there's one thing that lands Oregon on this list: Nike. The Beaverton, Ore., based company has already made the Ducks their featured program by ensuring they have the latest Nike gear and well over 160 uniform combinations (feel free to mix and match your own Duck uniform here).
The school already has an affiliate network of television and radio stations and it wouldn't be all that surprising if they teamed with Nike to get an actual cable channel going. Given what Nike has already done in the marketing sphere, the idea of "their" team crisscrossing the country might raise as many eyebrows in Indianapolis as it does in Eugene. At the same time, it's hard not to see the idea floated in Phil Knight's office at some point, is it?
Go ahead and insert your own Big 12-Texas joke here. If there was one lesson to be learned from last summer's realignment saga, it was that Texas is the major player in college athletics - and for good reason. The football program brought in the most revenue in the country last year with a staggering $94 million take and a nearly $69 million profit. If there's any program that could afford any initial financial hit from going independent, it's the Longhorns.
The program is also uniquely positioned (perhaps more so than anybody on this list) to head out on their own. The Longhorn Network will launch in late August and, with ESPN's backing, figures to expand the Texas brand into households across the country. Like BYU with BYUtv, having their own network already up and running would be a huge advantage over others that would be pondering a similar move. Schedule-wise, they would have no problem scheduling games based on the teams nearby and their draw nationally. Add in the fact that Texas is a large public school with plenty of alumni and fans across the country, and it's possible that football independence actually makes a lot of sense if administrators don't find the arrangement with the Big 12 to be working out.
If you're making a list of things that a school should have if they're considering going independent, USC would have a lot of check marks next to their name. Lots of alumni all over the country? Check. Nationally recognized brand? Check. Traditional college football power? Check. Given the school's connections to Hollywood and Silicon Valley, it wouldn't be all that surprising if they were able to quickly move onto some unique and intriguing media options if they decided to pursue football independence.
The recent NCAA sanctions have certainly hurt the reputation of the school and the football program which might actually be one reason why the school decides to make the jump from the Pac-12 to join the ranks of rival Notre Dame as an independent. Plenty of alumni are not happy with the Pac-10's lack of support in their infractions case (unlike, say the Big Ten with Ohio State) and that cuts into some of the good will Larry Scott has brought with a new media rights package. The Trojans have plenty of history of going around the country and playing teams, why not a little more of that as an independent? The Pac-10 was known as USC and nine others during the run under Pete Carroll, so maybe the idea of separating from the bunch isn't too far-fetched.