BYU Leaves For the WCC in Hoops: Two Perspectives

Posted by rtmsf on August 31st, 2010

We asked two of our best contributors to take a look at today’s news that BYU has decided to go independent in football while joining the WCC in all other sports.  As he’s done all summer, our Mountain West correspondent Andrew Murawa breaks down all the moving pieces here in a simple, understandable way.  Additionally, our WCC correspondent, Michael Vernetti, stops by with a profile of the architect of the biggest coup of realignment summer, WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich.

What Does It Mean? by Andrew Murawa

The wait for the next step in conference realignment is over, as BYU announced today its intention to forge ahead as an independent in football while joining up with the West Coast Conference in most other sports, beginning in 2011-12. In the process, the last hopes for the Western Athletic Conference to remain a viable entity have vanished, and the Mountain West Conference has turned its gaze from perhaps earning an automatic bid to the BCS for its conference champion to simple survival.

Jimmer Fredette Won't Get a Chance to Play in the WCC, but We Savor Future BYU-Gonzaga Matchups

A look at the news from the perspective of all the major entities in this move, BYU, the WAC, the MWC and the WCC:

  1. BYU – it appears all along that BYU was set on going independent in football, and just needed to find a soft landing spot for its other sports. In football, they’re working with ESPN on a deal for their television rights and they’ll make a viable schedule out of the remnants of the WAC (Utah State and Hawai’i are already on the schedule for 2011) and whoever else ESPN can convince to play them.  Regardless, they’re certainly not getting a Notre Dame-style sweetheart deal from the BCS and they’ll likely have trouble filling out a schedule decent enough to regularly put them in BCS contention. As for the move to the WCC, this is an excellent destination for a good basketball program, putting the Cougars into a spot where they should be able to compete with Gonzaga for conference supremacy immediately. Given St. Mary’s steady rise, Portland’s continued improvement, Loyola Marymount’s potential and the success of schools like Pepperdine, San Diego and Santa Clara in the past, the Cougars will definitely find some worthwhile competition there. And given that every other school in the league is a religious institution, BYU at least has something in common with its new conference mates (never mind the fact that BYU has a student body of 33,000, while the biggest school in the WCC has an enrollment of less than 9,000). But, the big key for BYU is getting away from what they found to be a limiting television package in the MWC. Now, they’ll be able to make use of their state-of-the-art media center and use it as a nice carrot to make sure that they are able to reach an agreement with ESPN. And, given that the WCC already has a television deal in place with ESPN for basketball and will reportedly retain broadcast rights for games not aired by the WWL, this is likely a big upgrade in terms of the television package for BYU.
  2. WAC – goodbye. If BYU had agreed to join the WAC in its non-football sports, at least there would have been some reason for the continued existence of the conference, but now standing at six teams with schools like Hawai’i and Utah State already considering other options, this venerable conference is on its deathbed as it approaches its 50th birthday. Right now, about the only reason for the remaining schools to stick together is in the hopes of getting the $10 million in buyout money from Fresno State and Nevada, money over which there will clearly be an epic legal battle. WAC commissioner Karl Benson insists that Fresno State and Nevada will have to remain in the conference through 2011-12, but the schools so far beg to differ. With six remaining members, the conference still holds a claim on an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for a couple of years, but the defection of one more school (whether it be Utah State to the MWC or Hawai’i to independence) would be the final nail in the coffin.
  3. MWC – saved from extinction a few weeks back by Fresno State and Nevada’s agreement to join the conference, the MWC is certainly hurt by the loss of BYU but it was going to happen sooner or later anyway. The hope of an automatic bid for its conference football champion to the BCS is now a distant memory and the conference is left with its meager television deal with Versus, CBS College Sports and its own network, The Mtn., now minus the Salt Lake City market  (the regional hub of the conference). In order for the conference to remain a viable entity for the future, it will need to fix its issues with its television contracts, but in the short term, it is still a strong league. However, given that the television contract is locked in until 2015-16, the conference may find itself having to fight off other suitors for some of its strongest members. TCU has already been mentioned as a possible target for the Big 12, and there has even been talk of a merger or some kind of alliance between the Mountain West and Conference USA (talk fueled by meetings between the two conferences in the days after the MWC added Fresno State and Nevada). Finally, there is the possibility that the MWC would be interested in adding more teams. They could certainly finish off the WAC by stealing Utah State (a move that would probably thrill Fresno State and Nevada because it would immediately end the $5 million buyout talk) and maybe even New Mexico State. There have been hopeful rumors of adding some of the western CUSA teams (Houston, Tulsa and UTEP, for example), but the MWC’s television deal probably precludes that, so it will be interesting to see what the next move is for a conference that was very recently thought to be a significant up-and-comer.
  4. WCC – first, you have to wonder what Gonzaga thinks of this. They’ve been the alpha dog in the conference for years as the school casting shadows on the rest of the league, and now, they’re potentially just another tiny school bouncing about in behemoth BYU’s wake. Certainly Gonzaga basketball isn’t going anywhere, but they’re no longer the program that can be immediately penciled in as the favorite in the conference every single year. Looking at it from the Zags’ perspective, the addition of BYU adds a couple more high-quality games during the conference season to bolster its strength of schedule and maintain a high RPI -– perhaps they don’t have to go so nuts with their non-conference schedule anymore. As for the conference as a whole, BYU’s presence in basketball is nothing  but good -– more high-profile games, stronger schedules and a big new market.  The league – now at nine teams with the addition of BYU – will go to a 16-game full home-and-home round robin schedule (although they’ll need to figure out the logistics of that, since there is no longer an easy way to schedule travel partners with an odd number of teams) and they’ll need to rearrange their conference tournament (tournament semifinals have been on Sunday and BYU will not play on Sundays). And there is even the potential for further expansion. Pacific had been considered for possible conference membership in 2008, and the Tigers would be a good fit along with the existing Bay Area schools (St. Mary’s, San Francisco, Santa Clara), but Denver and Seattle have also been mentioned as possible new invitees, given that those schools would add new large markets to the conference.  Denver, in particular, would be a natural travel partner for BYU. All things considered, this is an exciting day for fans of schools all around the WCC, even if the size and particular religious affiliation of BYU may give brief pause.

What’s next?

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Making Sense of the Mountain West/WAC Debacle

Posted by rtmsf on August 21st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.

When last we left the BYU-instigated MWC/WAC soap opera, the Cougars’ plans to escape the MWC in favor of football independence and a WAC home for all other sports had been thwarted by Fresno State and Nevada’s decisions to leave the WAC for the MWC, leaving the six remaining WAC schools twisting in the wind and BYU, although still a desirable quanitity, undecided as to where it would wind up. In the days since, some of the details of the MWC-induced defections have surfaced, some new rumors have arisen and the futures of the WAC and BYU remain undecided. And so, a recap of the events and whispers of the last few days:

Our Money is on Thompson (left) In This One (Idaho Statesman)

  1. Thursday morning, WAC commissioner Karl Benson gave his first public comments on the Fresno State and Nevada decisions to leave the conference, and he promptly blasted them, saying that their decisions were “selfish acts” that left the conference’s future very much in doubt. He also clarified that Nevada president Milt Glick did not, in fact, sign the agreement that would have levied a $5 million penalty on the institution for leaving the conference, but did give a verbal agreement to the proposition, and Benson expects that the verbal agreement will be binding. Fresno State’s president John Welty, along with the presidents of the other six WAC institutions, signed the agreement. According to Benson, the two institutions will have to pay up within 60 days. Furthermore, because both schools missed the July 1 deadline for filing to leave the WAC, they will be expected to play the next two seasons in the conference before heading to the Mountain West.
  2. It also came out on Thursday that Utah State had also been invited to join the MWC, but had turned it down, partially due to the $5 million buyout and in part because they wanted to be in the same conference as BYU. Since then, it has been reported that Utah State is again in negotiations with the MWC about possible membership, and since Nevada and Fresno State have already left the WAC, the $5 million buyout penalty is no longer in effect. If Utah State winds up leaving the WAC, it will likely be the final nail in the coffin, as the WAC needs six members who have been together for five continuous years in order to retain its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. If USU leaves, the WAC would be down to five teams, and it would be the next little domino that would push the remaining WAC schools to plan a different future.
  3. While Utah State looks to take care of itself, Hawai’i is contemplating its own future sans the WAC, and that future may include independence, football-wise. Given the difficult travel logistics in scheduling Hawai’i, they may be better off scheduling a combination of road guarantee-games, a handful of home-and-home series and several games at the ends of seasons welcoming BCS squads as sort of a pre-Bowl bowl game. For other sports, including basketball, Hawai’i is considering perhaps joining a conference like the WCC, although the attractiveness of adding such a geographic outlier to any smaller conference is very much in question.
  4. If, by some stroke of luck, the WAC is able to keep all six of its remaining institutions on board (and about the only reasonable selling point they have now is that they could split the $10 million that may be owed by Fresno State and Nevada among the remaining teams), the WAC is still looking at taking a huge step backwards. With very few desirable FBS football schools in the west as potential targets for the conference, among the schools being discussed as possible additions to the conference are names like Cal Poly, UC Davis, Sacramento State, Texas State and Texas-San Antonio, none of whom have been major factors in Division I men’s basketball.
  5. The biggest outstanding question in all of this mess is at BYU: after triggering this landslide, where exactly do they wind up? Commissioner Benson remains hopeful that BYU will still be coming to the WAC, but at this point that is little more than wishful thinking – there is absolutely no reason for BYU to take its non-football sports to that mess anymore. If football independence is still on the table, the only way that will happen is if BYU agrees to join the WCC for its non-football sports, however BYU has very little in common with the schools in that conference. While all of those WCC schools are religious schools, they are all also very small schools, but BYU has an enrollment of more than 30,000 students. In the end, while nothing is set in stone yet, MWC officials have become more and more confident over the past few days that BYU will wind up back in the MWC, at least until it comes up with a better plan a few years down the road.
  6. One interesting rumor that has been bandied about the past couple of days has been a potential MWC/Conference USA agreement to join forces in some as yet undetermined way. Among the possibilities discussed have been a full merger of the two leagues (23 teams), a combination of the most-desirable teams into something like a 20-team league, an alliance between the two leagues resulting in a championship game between the two conferences with the winner of that game earning a BCS bid, or simply a scheduling alliance between the two conferences. At this point, all of this is conjecture, but there was a “strategic” meeting between officials from both conferences on Thursday, although MWC commissioner Craig Thompson claimed that it was a previously planned meeting that had nothing to do with the events of the previous days.  This claim that should be taken with a grain of salt, given that Thompson also suggested this week that the invitations of Fresno State and Nevada to join the MWC had nothing to do with the rumors of BYU’s plans to leave for the WAC.

So, while there is plenty still to be sorted out here, we presently stand with a Mountain West Conference that looks like this (or at least will look like this in 2012): Air Force, Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV and Wyoming, with the possibility that the addition of Utah State (bringing the conference to 12 teams) will create a very strong basketball conference of relatively like-minded institutions all reasonably well geographically suited to one another. The fact that the football side of the conference looks solid as well is just an ancillary bonus (at least to this basketball-minded blog). However, even if BYU slinks back to the MWC for a few additional years, they are still very much the squeaky wheel here, unsatisfied with their current crowd. While having their own dedicated cable network, The MTN, is a plus for the conference, there is still the feeling that relying solely on that channel, plus a handful of games on CBS College Sports Network and Versus, the conference is leaving money on the table. However, that television contract is going nowhere soon, as it runs through the 2015-16 season. At some point, BYU is going to find a more suitable partner for its plans, and when that happens, the MWC will be saying goodbye to BYU all over again, this time for good.

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Did the Mountain West Just Cannibalize the WAC?

Posted by rtmsf on August 19th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Just a few hours ago, the Mountain West Conference was being left for dead. BYU was on its way to football independence and a WAC address for the rest of its sports, Boise State was potentially considering changing its mind about a move to the MWC, and we were contemplating a landscape in college athletics without the MWC, inarguably the most successful football non-BCS conference and also one of the most successful non-BCS basketball conferences. But MWC commissioner Craig Thompson was able to get quick agreements from Fresno State and Nevada to leave the WAC and join the MWC possibly beginning in 2011, although it could be pushed back to 2012 for financial considerations.

Thompson May Have Just Saved His League

The status of BYU is still somewhat in doubt as no official announcement regarding their future has been made. As of now, according to Thompson, “BYU is a member of the Mountain West Conference.” Given that the WAC is now comprised of just six teams, it is possible that BYU may reconsider and remain in the MWC as if nothing happened. Certainly the MWC would take them back without a second thought. Or, if BYU is still set on independence for its football program, it may look into the WCC as a potential home for it non-football teams.

Earlier in the day, it had been reported that all the schools in the WAC had last week signed a five-year agreement to remain in the WAC with a $5 million buyout penalty for leaving, and, as it turns out, it was BYU who instigated the buyout, hoping it was assuring a safe landing place for the Cougar non-football sports when they left the MWC. However, it turns out that Nevada never signed the agreement, although they did verbally agree to it, so they will have to pay some sort of exit fee, with the $5 million being the ceiling. However, if the WAC ceases to exist (a distinct possibility), it is possible that both Fresno State, who apparently signed the agreement, and Nevada will not have to pay the buyout penalty at all. If they wind up having to pay fees to the WAC for leaving, the MWC will aid those schools in paying their buyout penalties. According to Thompson, “We’re not going to bankrupt them to come into the Mountain West Conference.”

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Boise State-us Quo, Baylor, And The Ultimatum: The Expansion Latest

Posted by jstevrtc on June 7th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

On the heels of recent rumors regarding the Pac-10’s plans to invite six Big 12 schools to leave their current home for a new superconference, the Big 12 is looking for assurances that all of its current members are committed to the conference. At the Big 12 meetings in Kansas City this week, nine of the 12 schools gave their commitment to the Big 12, but the three schools with the likeliest chances of invites elsewhere – Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska – declined to do so. As a result, the remaining Big 12 schools have issued an ultimatum to all three schools, mostly focused on Nebraska, to either commit fully to continued membership in the Big 12 or else be ready to watch it dissolve. While there is no reason that any commitment these schools give to the Big 12 would be in any way binding and there is no “or else” necessarily specified, reading between the lines it looks like if the six schools tied to the Pac-10 rumors do not get assurances from Nebraska that they will remain Big 12 members, those six schools will pursue their opportunities with the new Pac-10 superconference.  So, while the Big 12 feels that can withstand the loss of Missouri and that Colorado isn’t going anywhere without other members of the conference, if Nebraska is not ready to commit to the rest of the conference and foreswear possible Big Ten membership, the invited six are ready to join up with the Pac-10.

In a related story, there is also news that the Texas state legislature is at it again, mixing it up in inter-collegiate sports in an attempt to save Baylor from being left behind. is reporting that there is a group of Texas lawmakers trying to make a push to force the Big 12 to take Baylor instead of Colorado, by doing something like not allowing Texas to leave the Big 12 for the Pac-10 if Baylor is not invited as well.  Also, it seems that rather than deal with a big legal and political hassle, the Pac-10 would be willing to substitute Baylor for Colorado, despite the desire for the lucrative Denver television market. This, of course, has happened before with Baylor. When the Southwest Conference broke up in the mid 90s, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor were offered invitations to join the Big 8 schools, creating the Big 12. It was then-Texas-governor Ann Richards, a Baylor alum, who insisted that Baylor be included in any plan with Texas state universities joining the Big 8 schools. This time around, it may be new Baylor president Ken Starr (yes, THAT Ken Starr) who is leading the charge to keep Baylor tied to the hips of the other Big 12 Texas schools.

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Mocking the Media Mock Bracket

Posted by rtmsf on February 17th, 2009

We haven’t seen much written on this yet, so we thought it would be worth our 1000th post here at RTC (woohoo!) to mock the media’s mock bracket that came out last Friday.   You remember the drill – the NCAA invites twenty distinguished members of the hoops cognoscenti to Indianapolis to go through the same exercise of filling the bracket in twelve hours that the NCAA Selection Committee goes through in five days (we’re still awaiting RTC’s invite).  According to Mike DeCourcy, this abridged media experience somehow proves that there’s no time for shenanigans amongst the committee in terms of potential made-for-tv matchups and backroom wheeling and dealing – “demystifying and demythifying” were the words used – even though the fact that the Selection Committee has five full days (vs. 12 hours) to consider other variables, such as ensuring compelling matchups, seems lost on him.  Demythifying?  We’re still trying to figure out how UNLV was selected over Vanderbilt and Notre Dame in the 2000 Tourney.  Oh yeah, Craig Thompson.

Anyway, here’s the media mock bracket (as of last Friday):


Clemson as an overall #2 seed is abominable, and that was true even before the Tigers’ loss to Virginia on Sunday.  And we have to agree with the commenters on Decourcy’s piece who take issue with Florida as a #8 seed ranked ahead of SEC leader LSU (#10 seed).  He’s right in that LSU’s out-of-conference schedule reads like a Big South slate, but credit has to be given for essentially dominating a BCS conference, which is what LSU at 9-1 has done to date.   The fairer way would have been to give both #9 seeds and be done with that dilemma.  Butler as a #3 seed, Utah as a #5 seed and USC as a #9 seed are so absurd it’s not even worth further mention.

We were also really surprised to see Georgetown in the bracket anywhere, much less as a #10 seed.  The Hoyas have top-tier talent and a decent RPI, but goodness, at 13-9 and 4-7 in the Big East at the time of this bracket, this has every hallmark of a rep pick.  And what happened at the #11-seed level of this bracket?  Cornell (ok, which reporter went to Cornell?), South Carolina (ok), Davidson (will be higher) and Arizona (will be a good bit higher)?   Decourcy mentioned the Davidson dilemma, but if the Wildcats win the SoCon again, they’ll be no lower than a #10 this year – mark that down.

Cross-referencing with our bracketologist Zach Hayes’ latest report which came out yesterday, we see that our guy’s analysis is significantly stronger and well contemplated than the bracket that the media came up with by themselves.  Seriously, we can’t believe some of their seeding selections.  This is comprised of America’s college hoops experts?  Wethinks that the bloggers could have done a better job, even in such a small slice of time as twelve hours.

Update:  we were tipped to Kyle Whelliston’s excellent column describing the events of the media mock selection process, and it makes things considerably clearer.  First, the mock committee were given scenarios based on automatic qualifiers that helps to explain why some of the seedings are out of whack with current relative positions; second, there was a major technical glitch during the proceedings that led to the seed lines 6 and below getting filled based purely on RPI.  Whelliston made pains to say that this is not how it would typically go.  DeCourcy never mentioned it.  This makes us feel a little better about the process, and the resultant bracket, although we still don’t think that it proves anything about conference affiliation considerations and/or other backroom shenanigans.  After all, the real committee has more time and are better versed in how to do this. 

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