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.