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
San Jose State
*San Diego State
Less West Division
* 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.
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