BYU Sets Off New Wave of Realignment PositioningPosted by rtmsf on August 18th, 2010
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.
The Who, What, When, Where and Why
Just when you thought we were done with conference realignment talk, at least for the summer, out of nowhere comes a stunner that rocks the Mountain West Conference and could set in motion a new chain of events that could leave us without what had turned into arguably the best non-BCS conference in the nation. No official announcement has been made, but as of mid-day on Wednesday, it seemed that BYU would leave the MWC beginning in 2011, play football as an independent and join up with the WAC for all other sports. The Salt Lake Tribune has reported the move as a “done deal,” pending approval by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the owner of the school. However, the Mountain West, fighting for its life, immediately responded by officially inviting Fresno State and Nevada to join the conference, invitations which, if accepted, would pretty much cripple the WAC before BYU even arrived, and perhaps forcing BYU to reconsider the wisdom of such a move.
BYU has been displeased with the television revenues associated with the Mountain West Conference and their dedicated cable television network, The Mountain, estimated to be somewhere around $2 million last season for football only. Comparatively, Utah, which just received and accepted in June an invitation to join the Pac-10, is expected to take home somewhere north of $15 million a season in football television revenues when it begins play in that league in 2011. BYU was apparently shocked that it was passed over when the Pac-10 expanded, and shocked again when the Big 12 passed on inviting the school as well, so it began exploring the possibility of taking the matter into its own hands.
BYU already has its own television network, and athletic director Tom Holmoe notes that it has its own state-of-the-art broadcast facility and equipment, including their own HD production truck. “There is nothing better than that west of the Mississippi. Nothing. For broadcasting,” said Holmoe at a meeting with reports on the BYU campus on July 16, according to Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune. “And it is first class. The things that we can do with that, the opportunities and possibilities. Nobody in the country has that ability.” Aside from the prospect of broadcasting their own games, BYU is reportedly in negotiations with ESPN for its football rights.
Is the Mountain West Kaput?
The invitations issued by the MWC to Fresno State and Nevada make a lot of sense in not only strengthening the MWC but also perhaps killing the BYU defection before it starts. The specifics of these invitations still need to be sorted out, as the MWC has a couple of things going against it: (1) the remaining WAC schools reportedly signed an agreement just last week that imposes a $5 million buyout penalty on any school leaving the conference in the next five years; and, (2) the WAC has a television contract with ESPN that may be more attractive (if presently slightly less financially rewarding) than The Mountain. It is unknown at this time whether the MWC in the interest of self-preservation has attempted to sweeten the pot for Fresno State and Nevada by potentially ponying up some cash to pay their buyout fees or if other machinations are in the works. It had been reported earlier in the day that Fresno State and Nevada had already declined offers to join the MWC.
Assuming the BYU move gets completed and that Fresno State and Nevada opt to remain in the WAC, the football side of this equation will be interesting, seeing as BYU wouldl be passing up a possible chance at BCS inclusion for the MWC in order to forge ahead alone as sort of a Mountain Time Zone bizarro-world version of Notre Dame (you know, without the 11 national championships and seven Heisman trophies). There are hopes that BYU could come to an agreement with the BCS where they would get a similar deal to the Irish who are guaranteed a BCS bid if they finish in the top eight in the final BCS rankings. BYU, however, would be eligible for BCS consideration if it finishes in the top 14 of the final BCS standings, a provision granted to all teams regardless of conference affiliation. If the school was able to garner a BCS invitation, it would be able to keep all of the revenue associated with the bowl appearance (currently approximately $6 million), rather than share it with conference members.
What About Hoops?
But, since we’re a basketball blog, how would this all affect the basketball side of the equation?
The biggest effect would be on the Mountain West Conference, a conference that placed four teams in the NCAA Tournament last season and only once has failed to advance at least two teams to the Tournament. Utah is already on the way out the door. With BYU joining them, perhaps the MWC doesn’t look so attractive to new arrival Boise State anymore, and maybe they back out and return to the WAC, a move for which there would be no penalty. Likewise, any other existing members of the MWC could announce their intentions to leave the conference as well without penalty (the deadline to do so for the 2011 season is September 1 – a very short time window for any mass exodus to be planned). So the options for the MWC seem to be limited to either playing as an eight-team league with Boise State or trying to poach teams from Conference USA with UTEP, Tulsa and Houston the most geographically relevant, but Memphis perhaps the most desirable option.
With the MWC down to eight teams and Boise State jumping back on its original horse and back to the WAC, maybe San Diego State and UNLV see the WAC as a more attractive option and TCU joins its former Texas SWC members in Conference USA? Basically, the MWC is in serious trouble of not existing very soon, with the WAC and Conference USA likely being the primary beneficiaries of its premature demise. Remember those couple or three hours back in June when the MWC was hoping to rope in Kansas and Kansas State as the Big 12 was on the verge of collapse? And now we’re talking about the MWC possibly going extinct? Wild summer.
As far as WAC basketball goes, the addition of BYU is clearly a boon, as the Cougars have made 25 NCAA Tournaments in their history and would immediately be one of the stronger programs in the conference. The possibility of adding, say, SDSU, UNLV and New Mexico to get to twelve teams, would make it a very strong high mid-major basketball conference.
More Doomsday Scenarios
If the MWC were to survive, it would likely be at the expense of Conference USA, a league not held together by any geographic or historical ties. Basically everyone in C-USA would like to be somewhere else, and it is possible that the BYU move opens up that chance. Maybe some of the Texas teams could be convinced to head to the MWC and, the rest of the C-USA teams are set adrift. Memphis and Central Florida have been tied (with varying degrees of credibility) to possible Big East expansion – maybe this is the impetus needed for that hook-up to happen.
And then there is the possibility that the MWC disintegrates, Conference USA disappears, and some new league made up of the strongest and most geographically fitting institutions arises out of their ashes — perhaps some combination of Colorado State, Houston, Marshall, Memphis, New Mexico, Rice, SMU, Southern Miss, TCU, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP and Wyoming with San Diego State and UNLV winding up in the WAC, and Air Force going independent in football like its military academy brethren and maybe joining this new conference in other sports.
Basically, we’re back to where we were in mid-June, albeit with an entirely new set of characters. We sit on the verge of a major shakeup affecting at least three different conferences, with one conference on the verge of being sent to the slaughterhouse, and all waiting on the official decision of one school that thinks pretty highly of itself and not a whole lot of its respective conference members. However, at the last moment, the conference under attack fights back, swinging for the fences and perhaps staving off obsolescence. Back in June, Texas bolting for the Pac-10 seemed all but a done deal, and here we sit a little over two months later with BYU to the WAC (and football independence) seemingly an LDS rubber stamp away from happening, when a last ditch effort for a reprieve gets mounted. Stay tuned, as I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the twists and turns in this story for the day.