UPDATE: BYU Football Going Independent; Cougars Joining WCC in Other Sports

It’s official!  BYU is leaving the Mountain West Conference to join the West Coast Conference…except for football, where they will become the nation’s fourth independent team, joining Notre Dame, Army and Navy.

Personally, I believe BYU is making a mistake by going independent in football, however the lure of MORE MONEY made this a worthwhile gamble…and it very well should pay off (SEE UPDATE BELOW). While they were a member of the MWC, they had eight league games, and only had to fill 12 slots with non-conference teams.  Now, starting in the 2011 season, they need to fill 12 games.  While the near-term schedules are filled with non-conference teams, who are they going to get to play eight more games a season?

AFTERNOON UPDATE: BYU has announced they will begin playing a six game home-and-home series with…Notre Dame, but did not release any further details as of 4:00 p.m. ET.  They also said they will fill five schedule dates in 2011 with MWC teams.  Additionally, they announced they have reached an agreement with the worldwide leader, ESPN, and their family of networks, to televise BYU football for eight years.

I think they will be getting a lot of guarantee games lined up for teams to fly to Utah and play in Provo.  I can see them filling dates with up-and-coming teams (meaning teams on the cusp of joining D-I status).  Look for smaller schools – Portland State, UC-Davis, Montana and such – to fill the short-term schedule.

BYU, as I stated in an earlier post, is not now, nor will it ever be Notre Dame.  There is no cache for BYU…even if history shows they have had undefeated seasons…and now they need to look to fill a lot of dates with teams they have probably never played before.

Home-and-home series with big BCS-affiliated schools makes sense…but most schools schedule games five to ten years out…and unless the carrot ($$$) is huge, they probably cannot schedule the home-and-homes yet.

On the other hand, joining the WCC is a good thing for BYU in regards to basketball.  Perennial power Gonzaga is a member…as is up-and-coming Saint Mary’s (winners of two games in last season’s NCAA tournament).  Portland and San Diego are also members, and have had success in recent years.  Now, with BYU as a member, the WCC is in position to become a regular multiple-bid league for the men’s basketball tournament.  BYU has been to 25 NCAA tournaments, including the past four.

Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall will oversee an independent football program beginning next season

Previously, BYU had an agreement worked out with the Western Athletic Conference to join in all sports except football, which they would play as a Bowl Subdivision independent.  The Mountain West’s grab of Nevada and Fresno State foiled the plan and left BYU with little time to come up with a new direction before Sept. 1, the deadline to notify the Mountain West of any plans to leave prior to the 2011 school year.

The WCC looked into possible expansion in the past year, but decided to stay at eight teams.  The opportunity to get a school the caliber of BYU, however, was too good to pass up.  The conference has just started talks to negotiate a new television deal and adding BYU should only make any deal more lucrative.

Watch what happens to BYU as a football team in the next few years.  They are not yet a “national” team like Notre Dame.  They will have to work hard to become one.  Army and Navy (as well as ND) play regional games…but they are national teams.  BYU is not.