It’s finally official: BYU is leaving the Mountain West and joining the ranks of the bold and self-sufficient, going independent in football in 2011.
Good for them.
Contrary to the irrational, emotional responses you might be reading elsewhere on the internet, this is the right move for BYU. This isn’t about BYU being “arrogant” or “delusional.” It’s all business. The Mountain West is overrated, despite the constant drumbeat about how they were on the cusp of BCS automatic qualification. The conference is extremely top-heavy. Sure, Boise State, BYU, and TCU are good teams, and Air Force is decent. The rest of the conference, though, is terrible; and in the formula that the BCS uses to determine who gets invited to the club, that would be enough to keep them from joining the “old Soviet Presidium.” The MWC didn’t need to add Boise State to their top tier; they needed the bottom half of the conference to step up. It’s doubtful that the BCS ever took the conference seriously.
It’s all moot now, as the Mountain West’s chances of getting automatic qualifying status in the BCS are about as good as my chances of winning the next Indy 500. In a way, it doesn’t even matter how good any of the teams are. The BCS isn’t about getting the best teams together. It’s about getting the most popular teams together to create the best possible TV package. Who has the better team, Boise State or Colorado? Obviously, Boise State. So why wouldn’t the Pac 10 want Boise? Because Colorado has a large fanbase that averages 50,000 per game in attendance and delivers the Denver TV market, which will be crucial when the Pac 10 eventually creates its own network. In the Mountain West, there are only two schools that can claim that same kind of popularity: Utah and BYU. Utah, of course, is moving to the Pac 10. That leaves BYU, and they’re simply a different caliber of athletic department than the rest of the Mountain West that Utah is leaving behind. How different? BYU’s average attendance last year was 64,236. The rest of the conference (including Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada; minus Utah): 27,411. BYU would have been the only program left with the drawing power to add value to the conference’s television package, leaving everyone else riding their financial coattails.
In that sense, the supposed master stroke of MWC commissioner Craig Thompson– luring Fresno State and Nevada out of the WAC– had the opposite of its intended effect. Sure, it effectively killed the WAC and left BYU’s other sports without a place to land, but this was never about BYU basketball or volleyball. This move is all about maximizing the revenue-earning potential of their football program, and adding Fresno State and Nevada just tacked on another pair of leeches to drain BYU of its earning power while offering absolutely nothing in return.
So how much earning power are we talking about? The Mountain West’s television arrangement with Versus, CBS College Sports, and The Mtn pay each school a little less than $1.5 million per year. In 2011 BYU will enter an 8-year agreement with ESPN that could pay as much as $1.2 million per home game, with a guarantee of at least 3 games per year being shown on the network. Those games that are not shown on ESPN can be broadcast on BYU TV, a network that has not only been up and running for years, but is in wider distribution than The Mtn and on a more basic tier on most cable and satellite networks. With its own network, the school would get to keep all of the advertising revenue from these games. Tack on the chance for the university to use its most marketable asset– the football team– to add visibility to the network they use to help inform the public about their Mormon faith, and BYU’s independence makes too much sense not to happen.
Let’s address some of the other talk floating around about BYU’s move.
Some people have apparently forgotten how the Mountain West came to exist in the first place. The original MWC members defected from the WAC a decade ago for a variety of reasons. The bottom line, though, was that they all felt it was in their own best interests to leave, just as BYU does now.
BYU is just arrogant. Without the Mountain West, they’ll become irrelevant.
This is not BYU being arrogant. This is BYU being pragmatic. And frankly, the idea of an alliance with Wyoming and New Mexico being the path to national “relevance” is ridiculous. BYU adds value to the Mountain West, not the other way around.
BYU won’t be able to fill its schedules as an independent.
In the past 5 years alone, BYU has scheduled Boston College, Notre Dame, Arizona, UCLA, Washington, Oklahoma, and Florida State. If those teams will play a Mountain West BYU, they’ll play an independent BYU– especially when ESPN is brokering the deal. In the last two weeks alone BYU has announced future series with Texas and Notre Dame. The remaining WAC schools will still play the Cougars, and despite the emotional rallying cries of scorned fans, most Mountain West schools will continue to schedule them too. It would be bad business not to. BYU will have no problem filling out their schedules.
There goes their shot at the BCS!
By going independent, BYU has the ability to make millions in television revenue every year. Who in their right mind would turn that down just for the off-chance of a BCS payday one year that they’d have to split with 10 other schools? And that’s assuming that staying in the Mountain West would give them a better shot at the BCS to begin with, which is only partially true. By going independent, BYU loses the chance to gain an automatic berth with a conference title and a top 12 finish. But if they finish in the top 12 as an independent, they would still be a viable at-large candidate. Guaranteed money every year is worth far more than maintaining the chance of an improbable one-time payday.
An independent BYU hurts Navy
Having one more independent team competing for bowl arrangements might appear damaging on the surface, but that’s only if existing conference bowl partnerships remain unchanged. With BYU and Utah both leaving the Mountain West, the conference becomes a lot less appealing to bowl games, and will likely lose some of their arrangements. If more bowl games become available as a result, it’ll be a wash for Navy.
So welcome to the animating contest of freedom, BYU.