Wednesday, January 2, 2013

BYU should return to's how and why

By John Ahlander, 

A month ago, we outlined BYU's 5 conference options.  Since then, the Big East has crumbled and Boise St. (and likely San Diego St.) are returning to the Mountain West Conference.  BYU's best option now is to return to an expanded 16-team Mountain West starting in 2014, when the new playoff system is in place.

Why 16 teams and who would they be?

First, the Mountain West Conference needs to expand to 16 teams.  The Mountain West should re-invite San Diego State and give new invitations to Houston, SMU and UTEP.  This will seal the fate of the Big East, all but assuring the MWC will get the "Group of Five" automatic new-BCS/playoff bowl bid each year.   It will also bring in new TV markets in Dallas and Houston.

Two divisions of 8 teams could be divided like this (division names purposely made up):

More West Division

Fresno State
San Jose State
*San Diego State
Utah St.

Less West Division

Air Force
Colorado State
*Boise St.
New Mexico

* New/Returning MWC teams

View Proposed 16-Team MWC in a larger map

Each team plays each other team in their division annually, plus one team in the other division (7+1) and 4 non-conference games.  Winners of each division play in a conference championship game.

Since BYU and Boise St. are the strongest football programs, they must be in different divisions to attempt to have them meet in a huge-draw conference championship game between two ranked teams to decide who will get the automatic big bowl bid.

BYU and Utah St. would become the year end rivalry game.  Other geographic year-end rivals would be SJSU-Fresno, UNLV-Nevada, CSU-AFA, BSU-Wyoming, New Mexico-UTEP, and SMU-Houston.  The only non-natural pairing would be SDSU-Hawaii, but SDSU is closest to Hawaii.

This will remind many of the failed 16-team WAC.  In fact, it's mostly the same teams.  Sports Illustrated chronicled the demise in a great 2010 article.  The conclusion.  It's didn't work then, but it could work in the future.  A lot has changed since 1996.  The Pittsburgh Tribune has more info. on the WAC breakup.

What about BYU's non-conference contracted games?

BYU's game contracts include penalties of around $1 million per game, if a team cancels the game.  Having to drop 8 games, and pay $8 million, to fit in new conference games would be a deal killer for any possible MWC move.  However, a closer look shows that this is very possible, with no buyout penalty.

As BYU would not join until 2014, there is no change to the great 2013 schedule.

In 2014, BYU already scheduled Utah St., Houston, Hawai'i, Boise, and UNLV.  Those games would be dropped as they are now in the same conference.  That leaves only Texas, Virginia, Middle Tennessee St.,  Southern Miss and Central Florida.  Southern Miss wants out of the game, so dropping that one would leave just 4 non-conference games.  Perfect.  No contract issues.

In 2015, BYU already scheduled Boise St., Utah St., Hawai'i and UNLV.  That leaves Nebraska, Michigan, Southern Miss. and Cincinnati.  As the Southern Miss. series would be cancelled, BYU would need just one more non-conference game to fill the slate.  Perfect.

BYU and Boise St. would not play each year in the proposed divisional lineup, but hopefully would often meet in the championship game.

What would the money/TV arrangements be?

BYU administration has always said the move to independence was about more exposure, not more money.  Truth is, it was both, and BYU was getting neither in the old MWC.

The MWC just agreed to package Boise State home games separate from the standard MWC TV deal, implement a bonus program that will pay a MWC team $300-500K extra for a national TV appearance and give 50% of BCS bowl revenues to an MWC team that makes a BCS bowl.  Basically, the MWC gave Boise St. the deal that BYU was denied two years ago, spurring the move to independence.

BYU makes a $4 million per year with the ESPN contract, according this report from CBS sports.  Note that is much less than the $8-10 million originally estimated by the media, and a number the MWC could figure out how to match.

One idea is that BYU's ESPN contract could be granted to the MWC, with 75% to BYU and 25% to the conference.  When the ESPN contract runs out in 2018, BYU would be included in the future MWC TV contract.

Why would the MWC do this?  Because they are currently making 0% from BYU games, and adding BYU will give the MWC better strength of schedule for the new playoff and bowl system.

Why would BYU do this?  Because they will make up the $1 million from the new playoff revenue distribution to the MWC.  The MWC will receive an estimated $17 million per year.  In a new 16-team format, each MWC team would receive $1 million.  BYU, as an independent,  is only promised $200K per year from the new playoff arrangement.

Wait.  Didn't we hate the MWC?

BYU had issues in the MWC with revenue distribution, TV rights, exposure, and BCS bowl access.  This proposal would address these issues.

What about the Big 12?

Nothing here would preclude BYU from going to the Big 12, if the Big 12 decided to expand and invite BYU.  Let's face it.  None of the five power conferences want BYU right now.  The MWC will be the sixth best conference in the country, and will likely be playing in a big bowl game each year.

Is this really better than being independent?

Yes.  If the ESPN contract can be retained, BYU will have the same exposure, the same money, but better access to the new-BCS bowls and playoff format.  The football team will have a conference championship to play for again.  Conference affiliation would ease the difficult non-conference scheduling and custom bowl agreements.

It's the best option right now.

Tell us what you think in the comments below, or on twitter @CougarFanDotCom

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  1. The biggest problem with your alignment is that Boise is 'more west' than Provo and Logan. You can call them something else. I like the idea of a north and south split, with the north being BSU, BYU, USU, UNR, UW, CSU, AFA and SJSU. The south being SMU, HOU, UTEP, UNM, FSU, HAW, SDSU, and UNLV.

    1. No, John makes a good point, BYU and BSU must be in different divisions to allow for a strong conference championship game with larger national interest.

  2. I think BYU should go back to the MWC also. However the one school that is being overlooked for MWC expansion is UTSA,(Texas-San Antonio). Why UTSA? They are an up and coming school. San Antinio metro has over a million population (37 in TV market), San Antiono is a tourist city, UTSA lead the WAC in football attendence of over 35,000 per game playing WAC competition; so good support from community. There are a lot more positives for UTSA than UTEP or even SMU for that matter.

    1. UTSA? be serious. - Texas State in San Marcos can spank UTSA. I think the idea was to move to a stronger conference and play better teams . . .not play and dominate 9 other chump schools.

      no thanks

      stay independent until an offer is presented where BYU plays in a conferene with champions.. not "up and coming" division 2 schools in San Antonio. WOW. WWOOOOWWW. - -no, Nathan . .there are NO positives to choosing UTSA. wow, i can't stop laughing.


  3. Wouldn't MWC membership weaken BYU's bargaining power with ESPN going forward, thereby decreasing revenues from that contract beyond 2018?

    1. I think the idea is that this would go away after 2018. Next contract BYU is a full partner.

  4. I don't mind the idea of being in a conference again, in fact, I think the competition is exciting. It only enhances fanship for me, but I don't know that I see the need for a 16 team league. Why not trim it down by a few and make the pie a little bigger for 12 or 14 teams? Some of the teams listed don't add anything to the pie IMO. They are just a drag on the rest.

  5. Returning to a second rate, "regional" conference is a virtual sell-out for BYU plans. It was a bad idea years and a worse idea now. This is, in reality, a western version of the Big East Conference.

    In addition, the old resentments and animosities will rear their ugly heads.

    Not only is this not the "best" option-it's not an option at all!


    1. Bingo. You hit the nail on the head, Robert.

    2. I'm onboard with Robert and JmThms... This idea is absurd.

      Let me sum this up for you...

      Under the Independence Scenario:
      1. BYU retains their agreement with ESPN - where they are guaranteed at least 4 mil (with incentives - i.e. when they play on national TV they get as much as a million a game - that make it entirely possible for them to make as much as 8-10 mil. over the course of a single season - check your source... cbs sports hates ABC and ESPN)
      2. Year in and year out they get to play 4-8 teams from power conferences in addition to the 4-5 power teams from the MWC (because they are regional and BYU is generally fair... except possibly with USU) ... even if those teams they play from the power conferences are patsies... they are viewed as stronger than even some of the top MWC teams.
      3. Though they are only "promised" 200k from the playoff arrangement, the playoff only involves 8 teams, and the likelihood that BYU would actually play in this in the near future is relatively slim... by brokering their own deal with a non-playoff conference, they can almost certainly make $1 mil. without much issue.
      4. They create their own destiny and don't have to deal with issues that arise from being in a conference.
      5. In 2018, when the ESPN deal ends, they can look at the landscape and see what it looks like... I can nearly guarantee that the MWC option will still be there... not to mention others that are currently spurring BYU may be more open at that point.

      I'm not going to take time to go into the MWC scenario, because it just simply doesn't make sense. Why take 2 steps back when you've already progressed 3 steps forward.

  6. Cougarfan,
    The division names are horrible! West and less west really? Secondly, you are all but handing BSU the conference championship every year. This is easier than their old WAC schedule. Who do they have to beat? Seriously? Air Force is the only somewhat descent team. Wyoming as rivalry? That’s like Alabama and Auburn this year in rivalry game. Where as the "west division" you’re looking at week in and week out of tough games! BYU, USU, Fresno, San Diego, Nevada, and San Jose could beat any team in the "less west" division with an acceptation of Boise and AFA winning some close ones. Boise state which is arguably already the best team would have almost an automatic bid to the BCS. Cruise their way to the championship and then play a worn out beat up team from the other division.
    Basketball this is a problem too. The "west has BYU, USU, UNLV, San Diego State. Whereas the "less west" only has New Mexico with Wyoming (still not convinced).

    Now Brad,
    You said "The biggest problem with your alignment is that Boise is 'more west' than Provo and Logan. You can call them something else. I like the idea of a north and south split, with the north being BSU, BYU, USU, UNR, UW, CSU, AFA and SJSU. The south being SMU, HOU, UTEP, UNM, FSU, HAW, SDSU, and UNLV"
    That idea is good however look at what difficulty it would take to win a championship in the North. BSU, BYU, UN, SJSU, USU, and AFA have all made bowl games this year and in years past with BYU, BSU, USU, Nevada and SJSU finishing in the top 25. The south is showing no strength at all. Fresno State is descent, SDSU can make a bowl game however cant beat half the Northern teams, and the rest stink. What your system sets up is ultimately what Wisconsin did this year to get to the Rose Bowl. Rise up for one big game against a team that has had a rough schedule and is worn out and win then make it to a BCS game. I can see this happening about 40% of the time when it should only happen about 15% off raw talent of teams. Then this less good team (lets say SMU beats Boise) plays against a powerhouse SEC and gets killed. Suddenly the MWC just lost any respect it may have had in the expansion and is kind of seen as the CUSA with its huge conference.
    Now your basketball teams would work well. With BYU, USU in the north with UNM, SDSU, and UNLV in the South. Still a little biased towards a better south but its about as close as you can get.

    My idea is as follows:
    Land Locked Division: BYU, USU, Nevada, UNLV, Wyoming, CSU, AFA, New Mexico
    Border Division: Boise, San Jose, Hawaii, SMU, UTEP, Fresno, Houston, San Diego St.

    This puts three good teams in land locked (states not bordering Ocean or country exception being New Mexico) as being BYU, USU, and Nevada with AFA being solid fourth team. The Border Division (Boarding Ocean or country) would have good teams Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State with San Jose as a solid fourth.

    The rivalry games would be similar. LL: BYU vs USU, Nevada vs UNLV, CSU vs AFA, and Wyoming vs New Mexico
    These are all very solid games. Wyoming has no competition in WY and New Mexico doesn’t either so it would be battle of better of two states.

    BD: Houston vs SMU, Fresno vs San Jose, then mixing it up a little UTEP vs Hawaii and Boise vs San Diego State.
    This is a bit more weird but hey ND and USC have a rivalry so why not?
    In basketball this is a bit weaker. You have BYU, USU, UNLV, and New Mexico all great teams in the LL division.
    The BD: Only good team is San Diego State
    I feel that no division is needed in basketball there are 16 conference teams so you play each team once and rivalry twice. Sure its a different approach however why couldn't it work? I really think that this system works out great and should be looked upon more and given to higher authority if able.

    1. Renaming your divisions makes them work: Beach vs. Mountain. All teams in the "Beach" division (with exception of Boise) are in a state with a beach. All the schools in the Mountain division have no beaches in their states, but do have mountains. Voila.

    2. Why even have regional divisions? Adam's comment shows that no matter how you slice it, it's extremely difficult to come up with regional divisions that make sense. Why not have no divisions? Each team plays 8 other conference teams and the teams with the two best records meet up for a conference championship. In a given year, a team might have an easy schedule, but for the most part it would mostly be fair. This would also allow the entire conference to take turns traveling to Hawaii, which is often a concern.

  7. No, no, and NO! BYU realistically only has two options: independence or the Big 12. Why should BYU re-degrade itself by re-joining a bunch of sniveling, whining, lying, backstabbing, excuse-making institutions (OK, mainly SDSU, but even Wyoming has been guilty of this in the past)? Remember, they 'hate' us. Why join with them and give them the benefit of our presence, when all they will do is complain, lie, make up things, etc. And continue to 'hate' us. Note: if this doesn't apply to some of these schools then don't worry. We needed, and continue to need, to seek better and greener pastures. BYU has the institutional quality to be independent or in a traditionally recognized 'power' conference. And why should the University of Utah be in a perceived better conference, one of the traditionally recognized 'power' conferences, than BYU? That doesn't make sense and is maybe the biggest reason for not re-joining the MWC.

  8. Awful idea. Better to remain indy. Who wants into a conference with academic/athletic powerhouses like Wyoming, UTEP, New Mexico, Fresno State and Hawai'i? And Utah State? Travel expenses alone would be a tremendous burden for the athletic budget.

    And don't insult the Trojans and Fighting Irish by invoking their teams in this conversation...sheesh, embarrassing.

    Seriously, get a returning to the dumpster fire that is the Mountain West Conf & their brilliant commish.

  9. While a conference alignment may look good on paper, BYU's independence is just getting started, and look at the schedule for 2013. Can AD Tom HOlmoe keep taht kind of schedule up over the next few years? it depends more on the restrictions placed on non-conference games by conference commissioners than it does BYU. The PAC-12 and Big-10 are locking down teams and their non-conference scheduling. But BYU is just starting to scratch the surface of the benefits of independence. A confernce is a great place to hide a mediocre team, but it also is a place where a very good team can be overlooked nationally. A 16-team MWC wtih SMU and UTSA and Wyoming and CSU is no different in football terms than the make-shift Big East, without the East Coast exposure. It would be a competitive basketball conference (UNM, SDSU, and UNLV are showing a real staying-power on the national BBall scene), where BYU might be left behind unless they improve significantly. But in football, the 16-team format is weak and weaker. The only game of national interest would like be BYU-Boise St., and that would come, according to this plan, only when both win their resepctive division -- those two teams need to be conference rivals. Let USU have Wyoming as a "rival."

    So, my vote is "stay the course." Stay independent. Let it play out. ESPN needs propgramming. They love intersectional games like BYU-GaTech, and BYU-Texas, and BYU-Wisconsin. THe only way to get the lao-ran BCS slot from the MWC is to win 'em all (or lose only one). Do the same as an idependent, and the BCS will be there, too, and in that case, $17 million goes in BYU's pocket an not in the pockets of 15 fellow conference teams.

    Leave the MWC alone. Let it prove that it is not just another Big East ready to tumble at the slightest push from market pressures or re-orgs or failed TV cvontracts. Let the dust settle, and when it does, BYU will have options. For now, the only wise course is to stay the court.

    1. ...and don't overlook the proposed "until 2018" aspect. I can just hear the MWC puppeteers, in the dark corners of their minds, scheming to have BYU back under their thumbs after 5 short years. Unless BYU gets everything they want in a league affiliation, it doesn't make sense to join any of them...competetively, academically, economically, in the recruiting arena or in any other way beyond making scheduling a little less difficult, at the expense of quality opposition. As to the MWC as depicted here, not just no...HELL no!!!

  10. Looks a lot like the old 16-team WAC that didn't work.

  11. It's almost identical to the old 16-team WAC. And the TV contracts and stakes are even higher now. It just wouldn't work.

  12. If the MWC will make $17 million from the new playoff, why would they increase the mouths to feed by four?

    As is, each MWC would make about $1.4 million from the new playoff/BCS access bowls. Because they have agreed to give half of conference earnings to an actual conference member that participates in the new playoff or access bowl, that would leave only $8.5 million to split among the conference members, about $770K to each non-participant.

    If you expand the MWC to 16 teams, each team only gets $1.0625 million per year and only $560K to each non-participant if an MWC teams makes the playoff/access bowl.

    The only way the MWC expands to 14 or 16 is if they know they can make up the $300-500K per school in a new TV deal (or reselling some games), beyond what they are making now. That's an additional $5-8 million per year beyond the current deal. It is possible, but not guaranteed.

  13. Keep BYU out. BYU should seek to sign up more MWC opponents on its independent schedules and negotiate directly with the Holiday, Las Vegas, Poinsettia, Fight the Hunger, and Armed Forces bowls for tiered access with the MWC, PAC 12, and C-USA. But stay out of the MWC!

    MWC should look to add UTSA (great points, Nathan), SMU, Houston, and Memphis. Four good markets and upside potential. Four schools in the same time zone that can create a good regional foothold. Great basketball - Memphis, UNLV, SDSU, New Mexico, Houston. But even more importantly, athletics programs and facilities are more in line with MWC standards (ie, 30K stadiums/attendance).

  14. Scheduling agreement and independent in football while joining MWC in all other sports. BYU should go to the MWC with the same agreement that Notre Dame just signed with the ACC. We could fix our scheduling problems. Insist that lower tier teams like Wyoming, New Mexico, UNLV, and San Jose State play us 2 for 1 in scheduling. Get annual games with Boise and the Aggies as rivalry games but get them at the end of the year and as part of the MWC TV deal.

    That conference for basketball would be really good. BYU, SDSU, UNLV, UNM, Nevada, Utah State and even an improved Boise program would make it the best basketball league in the west by far. Currently, the MWC is the #2 RPI conference in college basketball. Hawaii is already a football only school. You could add Houston and SMU to the MWC in all sports for the Texas market. There is a lot of money to be made in basketball as well, ask the Big East "Catholic Seven" schools. BYU would add value in negotiating those TV rights.

    For me that is the only way to go until the Big 12 finally comes to their senses.

  15. I like your rationale: I was wrong about Independence, and I was wrong about going to the BE, but I'm right this time! I think I'll go with Holmoe on this.

  16. I know there are a lot of possibilities here but what about BYU making another conference and snatching the meat of the MWC and others to make 12 teams?

  17. I don't see why Tulsa isn't in the mix?

  18. The only reason to do this is it is a better path to a BCS game then even Utah has, due to a easier schedule then they have. With that said, please do not take this step backwards. Going to play crap schools and their fans like UNLV, CSU, and Wyoming just is not worth it. USU I hope will continues on but without a great coach like Anderson I'm not sure it will happen. New Mexico will always struggle. San Diego, Fresno, Air Force, and BSU are the only ones worth it, and maybe Hawaii for recruitment reasons. Money will be lost, stature will be lost, and lies will be made to us just like last time.

  19. I believe BYU stays as the independant team for the football perspective. Those MWC teams want money, then play BYU in Provo more often because we draw the fans and TV draws the fans to watch.

  20. I think BYU needs to look at what the other Independent schools are doing currently as an indication of the changing winds. Notre Dame has all but joined a conference, and Navy is scheduled to join the BE.
    The looming problem for BYU in remaining Independent is scheduling. Just like the Utes, schools in power conferences want to pad their non-conference schedules either by scheduling weak programs or by scheduling all or most of these games at home. This hurts BYU. It has been difficult for BYU to put together an Indy schedule thus far and I think it will only get tougher. If the PAC-12 refuses to schedule late-season out of conference games, and if the MWC decides to do something similar (or heaven forbid not schedule BYU out of spite), we have a real scheduling problem on our hands.
    Secondarily, access to the playoff will remain a problem as well, even as we see that playoff expand beyond 4 teams.

    There are some benefits to joining a conference: conference championships, rivalries, and bowl access.

    If they do re-join the MWC I'd like to see it stay at 12 schools--there's no big benefit to going to 16 now, it will make the conf appear weaker.

    Certainly, I like the 2013 schedule, but will we always be able to have that nice of a schedule?