18 Aug 2010
Rumors are flying this morning that BYU is about to announce that is going independent in football and moving back to the WAC for other sports. (The most official word on this has come from Colorado State's Twitter page, so we won't pretend like this is 100 percent official just yet. But it appears to be getting close.) Initial reaction in the Twitterverse is mostly negative -- no way this works, how crazy, who do they think they are, et cetera. But let me offer three reasons why it might be a good, to very good idea.
They are a brand.
No, they are not "Notre Dame of the West," and no, they are not a true "national power." But they are a national brand. Due to both the consistency of their success and the religion of their school, they have a unique draw, and leaving the Mountain West will not damage that. Last season, Bronco Mendenhall and staff signed three four-star players (according to Rivals.com): quarterback Jake Heaps from Washington, receiver Ross Apo from Texas, and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi from Provo. As an independent, they'd have signed those three anyway. Recruiting will not suffer.
Because they are a brand, they will be able to schedule.
First things first: with more conferences moving to a nine-game conference schedule, BYU will find it a bit tougher to throw together a decent schedule than they would have previously. This is because of a couple of different factors: 1) A large batch of teams will be going from four non-conference games to three. With fewer potential games to schedule, obviously, fewer teams would have a spot for BYU. 2) A large batch of teams will use the extra conference game as an excuse not to make their schedules too much more difficult than they already are. Again, that shallows the pool a bit.
However, here's the deal: they do not play a tremendously difficult schedule now, at least not one that will be hard to replicate. Take last year's schedule, for instance. Yes, BYU played Oklahoma, Florida State, TCU and Utah. Those are all very good to great programs. They also played an Air Force team that is always solid. But here's the rest of their schedule: Tulane, Colorado State, Utah State, UNLV, San Diego State, Wyoming, and New Mexico. Those teams combined for a record of 27-58. They can replicate that schedule. First of all, they will almost certainly continue to play Utah every season. Plus, people are assuming that their independence will lead to a series with Notre Dame, and it's hard to disagree. (They could arrange a running series with Navy too.) They have Texas lined up for 2011 and a home-and-home with Oregon State coming up as well. They had a series with Boise State arranged before BSU moved to the Mountain West. They should be more than capable of getting 2-3 marquee matchups per year. Fill in the rest of the schedule with a handful of WAC/Mountain West teams, Army, an FCS opponent, and a couple of Conference USA squads, and that is very close to the schedule they currently have.
So their talent probably will not suffer, nor will their schedule. That leaves one variable: money. Will their independence cost them in this regard? Not really. The Mountain West's current TV revenue deal allots them approximately $12 million per year. Distributing that nine ways works out to $1.33 million per team. Obviously that is not the only revenue that Mountain West teams make, but if their local arrangements pay off, if they get a couple of nationally televised games (and bowls) each year, and if they don't have to split things equally with the UNLV's and San Diego State's of the world, then are they really worse off? Even though there might not be the proverbial boatload of money in it for them if they leave the conference, they're not making a boatload of money now.
The bottom line: this may not vault BYU to some sort of pseudo-major conference status like what Notre Dame has, but it is likely the closest they can get. Their unique arrangements ("no events on Sunday" being the major one, of course) precluded them from being seriously considered for a Pac-10 invitation, and it would probably do the same if the Big 12 were to ever expand. In terms of conference membership, they are not likely to do any better than the Mountain West.
Of course, even without Utah, the Mountain West would have at least a chance of getting BCS conference status in the future, thanks to the Boise State addition. It's not a bad place to be. But this move would allow BYU to maximize their own individual power, and as shown above, their talent, schedule, and revenue might not suffer. So if you can make a neutral move in terms of true value but potentially increase your clout/reputation, you go for it, right?
17 comments, Last at 19 Aug 2010, 1:35pm by Revenge of the NURBS
Minor weaknesses dot these teams. Except for Arizona, which needs to bring in more help to really run Bruce Arians' offense.