Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Aug 2010

BYU Potentially Going Independent

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?

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 18 Aug 2010

17 comments, Last at 19 Aug 2010, 1:35pm by Revenge of the NURBS


by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:26am

My totally original take on this --
1) No way this works.
2) How crazy!
3) Who do they think they are?!
4) Et cetera!!!

That said, I would like to see a running series between BYU and Notre Dame. Serious religious questions are about to be settled on the gridiron.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:27am

You may be right, but when looking at college football, one question has to be examined first; does being independent change the chances of playing in a BCS bowl game, and, most importantly, the championship game? It is really hard to see how being independent increases BYU's chances, and a reasonable case can be made that it decreases their chances.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 12:40pm

"a reasonable case can be made that it decreases their chances"

That's an understatement. It hurts their chances severely by eliminating any possibility of them ever receiving an automatic berth. And I mean that literally -- under the current BCS rules, there is no way in which an indepedent BYU receives an automatic BCS bid, even if they go undefeated.

After the 7 automatic qualifiers, that leaves BYU fighting for the last handful of at-large berths. Realistically, that probably means BYU has to finish ranked in the top 8 or so to make it. That ain't happening unless they're 12-0. Can that happen? Sure. Is it likely, considering that they weren't even the best team in the MWC? Not in my opinion.

On the other hand, maybe it doesn't matter so much. Even the most jaded and cynical fans have to realize that the BCS will not live forever. There will be a playoff at some point, and automatic BCS berths won't matter.

by Eddo :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 5:37pm

How exactly is the non-AQ rule written? I thought it's to get any top-12 teams from outside the six AQ conferences an automatic berth. BYU, if independent, would be outside the six AQ conferences; if they go 11-1 or 12-0, I'm sure they'll crack the top 12. Therefore, they'd still get an automatic bid.

If anything, this move could help their chances of finishing in the top two with an undefeated year. While MWC teams are forced to play bottom-feeders within their conference, BYU has the opportunity to at least schedule low-level AQ-conference teams in place.

Notre Dame, the other prominent independent football program, usually plays a tough schedule. I don't see why BYU wouldn't, as well.

by Zac :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 1:14am

The champions of non-automatic qualifier conferences get an automatic bid if they finish in the top 12 (and are higher than any other non AQ champions). This only applies to the champions. Notre Dame has its own rule about AQ if it finished in the top 8. Army, Navy, and an independent BYU would have no such rule.

BYU's only possibility of getting an auto-bid would rest on being one of the top 2 teams in the BCS rankings, which seems like a longshot.

Source: http://www.bcsfootball.org/news/story?id=4819597

by mm (not verified) :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:56pm

Even if it eliminates the chances of BYU getting an automatic bid to the BCS, it will likely help their chances of getting a bid to the BCS.

Unlike (for example) most Big East schools, BYU has fans who will travel to a bowl game with enough left over to watch the game at home. If the school puts together a respectable schedule and gets into, say, the top 7 of the AP poll, a bowl game will want to select them for their bowl. They'll probably get more traveling fans than a second place school from some BCS conferences (or a first place school from the Big East).

The key for them is getting bowl arrangements so they have somewhere to go when they don't make it to the BCS (most years). Notre Dame has the Big East arrangement; I wonder if they're looking for the same arrangement with the WAC, or if a bigger conference (Pac 12, Big 10?) will agree to share with them.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 11:19am

BYU's ability to bring travelling fans isn't really applicable to the discussion. Not because it's not true, but because it's not any different today than it was yesterday. In other words, their leaving the MWC does not change their travel-ability at all, and therefore does not make an independent BYU any more or less appealling than an MWC-member BYU.

But if we're going to get into off-the-field implications, I can think of one that hurts BYU if they go indepedent. The BCS suffers from a reputation that it excludes the mid-majors, to the point that they put in provisions to make it easier for teams from the MWC, WAC and so on to make it in. Under the current system, a mid-major will make it in basically every year. In order to take BYU, the BCS would essentially be taking a second mid-major team, which I would assume they'd find unappealing.

And I agree that if BYU can put together a decent schedule and go 12-0 against it, they'd probably be in. I mentioned that. But I also don't think that's especially likely, on multiple fronts. For one, the BCS formulas make them a high-risk/low-reward opponent (see Boise State), so they'll struggle to book tradional power teams. And if they can book a couple good teams, I don't expect BYU to beat them (or at least not all of them).

by mm (not verified) :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 12:41pm

"For one, the BCS formulas make them a high-risk/low-reward opponent (see Boise State), so they'll struggle to book tradional power teams."

Looking up wikipedia, here are some of BYU's non-conference games from the past 4 seasons + this year

2006-Arizona, BC, Tulsa
2007-Arizona, UCLA, Tulsa,
2008-Washington, UCLA
2009-Oklahoma, FSU
2010-Washington, FSU

Right now BYU seems to do a fine job getting some national names to play them. As an independent, they have space to add more teams. Let's say they manage to get the following schedule most years:

Utah + 2 other Pac 10 teams
3 teams from the other BCS conferences +Notre Dame
3 teams from MWC/WAC

That wouldn't be a high risk/low reward team. If BYU does well against that schedule and you beat them, you'll get credit. Of course, if BYU is doing poorly and you lose to them you'll get hammered. BYU would be viewed as essentially a BCS caliber school on your schedule.

" And if they can book a couple good teams, I don't expect BYU to beat them (or at least not all of them)"

Well, that's another issue. I'm not arguing BYU will be a power that gets into the BCS every year. I do think they'll have a far more respectable schedule than Boise State has had and a better schedule than they would have in the MWC. If they do win they'll get respect from both computers and human voters.

The key for them is being able to schedule teams late in the season. I believe Notre Dame has trouble getting quality non-conference games late in the year.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 1:35pm

I'm not sure that Tulsa and Arizona really qualify as "power" teams. About the most you can say for Arizona is that they're in the Pac-10. Even less so for Tulsa. And now that I think about it, Washington and UCLA are "names", but they really aren't that good, and they haven't been for a while. These are exactly the kind of teams I would expect BYU to be able to schedule -- above-average mid-majors, and major conference also-rans. So I think we're agreeing in a way.

So I'll conceed that if it does come to pass that BYU can put together a schedule of those type of teams, that probably will give them a decent strength of schedule and make them a more desirable opponent. I'll still stand by my assessment that BYU would not run the table against such a schedule. I suppose they wouldn't have to, but they'd still need to lose no more than 1, and that still seems like a big longshot.

BYU would also have a better SOS than Boise State in that scenario, but that doesn't really matter because they wouldn't be in direct competition for spots anymore. In the MWC, Boise State is competing against other MWC and WAC teams for a pseudo-automatic bid. As an independent, BYU would be competing against the likes of Georgia, Oklahoma and Penn State for an at-large. BYU will not have an SOS advantage against those teams.

by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:34am

I think they could probably schedule any PAC-10 team they wanted to. One factor I haven't seen considered is how hard other schools work at recruiting Mormons (particularly of Samoan descent). Don't you think USC, UCLA, UW, etc. would love to be able to tell those kids about an upcoming home-and-home series with BYU? I bet the Huskies would sign a deal right now for an annual non-conference match-up (hedging somewhat against losing their LA-area recruiting showcases).

by Bill Connelly :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 2:14pm

The Salt Lake Trib says it's a "done deal." "Done deal" doesn't always mean "done deal," but ... this is more official than the CSU Twitter page (that they later said was hacked)...

by Jon Frum (not verified) :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 4:45pm

BYU is a brand in college football? Really? As a very casual - but decades-long - college football fan, I would have gone VERY far down the list before I got to BYU. Texas is a brand. Michigan is a brand. BYU? Haven't they had some good quarterbacks? That's about all I know, and it would never enter my mind to choose a BYU game on television over any other particular game.

Maybe you have to live in the West. Or in Utah.

by Bill Connelly :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 4:50pm

They're not a "College Football Tier 1" brand, but yes, they are nationally recognizable (they did, after all, win a national title, deserved or not), and they can recruit players from throughout the country with a unique draw. I'm sure we all have different definitions of "brand," but that's approximately mine.

by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 9:07pm

It really does show just how pathetic are the "have-nots" in the universe of college athletics. College football is THE moneymaker for these athletic programs. Any conference that admits BYU for all non-football sports is basically saying "please, bend us over the gatorade table." To see the WAC basically kow down like this is sad.

Notre Dame gets away with it because they're notre dame, the biggest catholic school athletic draw out there, so they bring a lot of class and tradition to the big east. BYU doesn't have that, and it leaves them as princes among toads in a new WAC.

by mm (not verified) :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:40pm

Adding BYU will make the WAC more money from their non-football sports and it will hurt the MWC in all sports. If we assume the MWC was going to add the 2 WAC programs regardless, why is adding BYU not a good thing for the WAC?

by FireOmarTomlin :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 10:09am


Between the WAC getting punked out to soon-to-dissolve only 6 teams via Fresno/Nevada, and the "insiders news" of Patterson hinting at (probably another Big"12"/SEC type move) .... Hahhahahha, looks like the stormin mormons shot themselves in the foot.

When the WAC dissolves, will Hawaii be left alone and conferenceless forever?

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 1:21pm

Hawaii would actually stand a fair chance as an independent because of the NCAA rules that let teams who go to Hawaii count it as a 13th game. Away games might be a little harder to schedule though.