BYU is in its third year as a football independent after leaving the Mountain West Conference in 2011. The Cougars are in the midst of a four-game winning streak heading into Friday's showdown with Boise State in what's now an annual rivalry showdown.
But no matter what happens the rest of the season—even if BYU goes 10-2 with victories over Texas and Boise State—the Cougars won't be part of the BCS conversation and will have to settle for a second-tier bowl, as they have the past two years.
So did the Cougars make the right move in going independent? And are their prospects going to improve once the BCS era ends after this season?
Over the summer, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe emphatically said striking out on its own was the right thing to do, telling the Salt Lake Tribune: "For sure, I would do it again. It has given us new energy and additional opportunities. We were in a good spot before, but I believe we are better off now."
In terms of television revenue, it's hard to argue with Holmoe. BYU got a national TV deal with ESPN in which nearly all its home games and many of its road games are broadcast on the World Wide Leader's networks. Between ESPN and BYUtv, the school receives about $10 million annually, more than triple what Mountain West schools get, with the exception of Boise State, which has its own sweetheart deal.
|BYU's Best Seasons Since 1984 National Title|
|Season||Record||Final AP Rank||Bowl Game|
|1985||11-3||16||Citrus Bowl (L)|
|1996||14-1||5||Cotton Bowl (W)|
|2001||12-2||25||Liberty Bowl (L)|
|2006||11-2||16||Las Vegas Bowl (W)|
|2007||11-2||14||Las Vegas Bowl (W)|
|2009||11-2||12||Las Vegas Bowl (W)|
|Division I-A Historical Scores|
The windfall BYU might be missing out on is a spot in one of the lucrative BCS bowls. Under the current BCS selection process, there is no chance for the Cougars to automatically qualify for a berth. And even to qualify as an at-large team will require them to finish in the top 14 of the final BCS standings, which is a long shot given that they already have two losses.
But the access and payout problem gets worse for BYU in the new College Football Playoff, which is set to debut in 2014.
If Navy joins the American Athletic Conference in 2015 as planned, BYU and Army will be the only "non-Notre Dame" football independents left in FBS, and neither is getting any kind of access to the six CFP contract bowls. The highest-rated conference champion among the "Group of Five"—AAC, MWC, MAC, C-USA and Sun Belt—will earn a spot in one of the four bowls not hosting the semifinals.
Unless BYU is one of the semifinalists in the new CFP, it will be shut out of the big bowls and get a paltry payout of $200,000 per year. (What Group of Five conference teams will receive is still unknown at this point, but the lion's share of the expected $500 million annually from CFP games will go to the five power conferences.)
Holmoe has let his displeasure over the unequal distribution be known, but for now he's plowing ahead with BYU remaining as an independent. The Cougars have significantly upgraded their schedule since becoming independent in 2011. This year, they have six games against BCS conference teams, plus Notre Dame and Boise State. They will also take on USC, Michigan and Wisconsin in the coming seasons.
It can be argued that BYU, in the new CFP era, might have a better shot at winning the national championship than playing in a CFP bowl game. With their challenging schedule and television exposure, if the Cougars can run the table in any given year, they will definitely be on the selection committee's radar.
Ultimately, that might be what the Cougars are aspiring for. Remember, they're still the last team from a non-power conference to win a national championship, which they accomplished in 1984.
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