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Will College Football Playoff Leave Independents out in the Cold?

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Will College Football Playoff Leave Independents out in the Cold?
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The pleas for help have officially begun. 

As college football inches toward its four-team playoff, access—or, the ability to deny access—has become a focal point.

As it stands, BYU, an independent, is in a no-man's land of sorts. The Cougars aren't in a so-called "Power Five" conference, nor are they in a non-power conference like the Mountain West. 

Nor are they Notre Dame. BYU is just...there, which is unfortunate given the program has a history of a national championship (1984) and a Heisman winner (Ty Detmer). The only thing known about BYU's place in college football is that the ACC doesn't consider the program to be a Power Five opponent for scheduling purposes. 

If BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had it his way, that would change. The Cougars would be in the Big 12 or any other power conference interested enough to take them. 

Speaking to Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman on Thursday, Mendenhall made his case: 

We would love to be in the Big 12. I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense. In fact, if that was your headline, that would be great. We have a chip on our shoulder. I could have given you that instead of the longer answer. I’m just wondering who fights for us as an independent?

First, it's important to point out that, according to Davis, the Big 12 has no plans to add BYU—or anyone, for that matter. Like all other conferences, the Big 12 is in a wait-and-see mode with regard to the playoff.

All changes, from adding a deregulated conference championship game to adding members, are probably being tabled until the league has a better understanding of how playoff selections will be made. That's bad news for Mendenhall's cause, which, should be noted, may not necessarily reflect BYU's thinking.

But Mendenhall brings up an intriguing question: "I'm just wondering who fights for us as an independent?"

The answer, of course, is no one because no one in college athletics is obligated to fight for anyone else. Contrarily, college athletics—football in particular—is a sport of self-interest where everyone does what's best for them.

Including BYU. As Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated noted in his recent mailbag, BYU's move to football independence was fueled by the opportunity to develop its own TV deal with ESPN:

BYU as an institution is unique in that its core mission is to spread the message of the LDS Church. Its nationally respected football team provides a means to do that. In 2010, the school was frustrated by the Mountain West's disastrous TV deals at the time, and it felt it would gain more exposure and revenue by striking its own deal with ESPN. That rationale proved accurate. 

It also could prove to be challenging. Television networks want as much compelling inventory as possible, and BYU is given the task of scheduling what amounts to 12 nonconference games each year. Not every one of those games is going to make for great television, but enough have to. 

When the ACC and SEC voted to stay at eight conference games and play at least one Power Five opponent each year, BYU fell on the wrong end of the deal.  

This doesn't mean that ACC or SEC teams will never schedule BYU—the Cougars opened the 2013 season against Virginia and have future games against the Cavaliers—but it does provide less incentive to do so. 

(Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com recently wrote a post explaining the challenges of running a true independent in the playoff era.)

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It's not that BYU will never be able to fill a schedule with compelling games. BYU and UCLA agreed to a home-and-home series in 2015 and 2016. For that matter, a quick glance over the Cougars' future schedules (courtesy of FBSchedules.com) shows plenty of big-time opponents. 

It doesn't make the process any less challenging, though, especially when other conferences are making labels for who's who. 

Meanwhile, Notre Dame, another football independent, has a membership to college football's country club. The Irish will also play five games against ACC opponents as part of a partial membership, which takes some pressure off scheduling, and have a tie-in to the Orange Bowl. 

Even a similar scheduling/bowl agreement with, say, the Big 12 or Pac-12 would help BYU tremendously. 

Life's good when you get in with the right people. If you don't, good luck. As far as major college football is concerned, BYU is a good program, but just not good enough. 

The backhanded compliments can be summarized by one Big 12 source who spoke to Davis. 

"Outside of the 65, they could be the best program out there," the league source said. 

"Outside" being the operative word. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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