BYU's Independence Strategy: The Long-Term Vision

Stephen CarrollContributor IAugust 28, 2010

28 Sep 1996: Members of the BYU Cougars football team sprint onto the field from the lockerroom while carrying a large team flag during pre game introductions before the Cougars 31-3 victory over the SMU Mustantgs at Cougar Stadium in Provo, Utah. Mandato
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Brigham Young University has not yet made any formal announcements regarding its intentions to forge a path to football independence. Yet, the evidence is clear that the school in Provo, Utah is striving to find a way to make it a reality.

Many in the national media have questioned the feasibility of the move with references to the notion that BYU cannot succeed in the independence model in the same fashion as storied Notre Dame.

It's fascinating that there is so much media emphasis on this point, when, in fact, commentary to this regard misses the true relevance of BYU's master plan.

BYU does not need to be Notre Dame.  As stated by BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, "We are not Notre Dame, and we can't make demands. We don't have multiple invitations. So we try to make the best of this jigsaw puzzle, and position ourselves for the current [time], and the future." 

Despite the fact that BYU has not made the assertion that they intend to be the "Notre Dame of the West," many have in fact criticized them for making such a claim. 

How many teams currently within the six BCS conferences could make a bona fide claim that they would rival Notre Dame as a football independent?

The answer: Very few.

Teams like Texas and USC come to mind, but adding to that list is a difficult proposition.

The origin of this assertion comes from Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel who stated, "BYU fashions itself the Notre Dame of the West, a church-affiliated institution with a national following. In search of greater exposure for its global television network, BYUtv, it's reportedly prepared to ditch the Mountain West to become a football independent. A national brand wants to play a national schedule." 

BYU itself, however, has not overtly made that statement.

Interestingly, an interview with ESPN senior vice president of college sports programming Burke Magnus last week by Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News produced this statement by Magnus:

"They have a history of having pretty good teams coming to play in Provo. Texas just did a home-and-home with them. They had Notre Dame there over the years. I presume they'll continue to play Utah. I think it would have been an interesting proposition to have sort of the mountain version of Notre Dame."

BYU has made it clear that the primary focus on the benefits of football independence is increased exposure, particularly in relation to their own fanbase and for the church generally.

However, in the move for independence, there is more intelligence in the move than is being commonly rehearsed in the media.

BYU has known for years that while they're not at the level of Notre Dame, their market value is far greater than what they receive by being a member of the Mountain West Conference.

Why is market value such an important consideration?  Because in the formulation of any possible Big 12 Conference expansion, for instance, Commissioner Dan Beebe made it clear recently that the conference is looking for a teams that will help maintain or increase revenue.  The conference would also look for a program that lies outside of their current state geographic footprint.

Simply put, as long as BYU remains in the Mountain West Conference, it cannot demonstrate what market share it can command.  Further, BYU would not be in a position to increase or expand that value by remaining in the MWC.

It is also fair to assume that the administration at BYU is doubtful about the eventuality of the Mountain West being granted AQ status in the BCS.  Which, if you listen lately to Jerry Palm of, a well-known BCS analyst, the math is marginal at best. 

BYU is also savvy to the culture of the BCS and the likelihood of the BCS wanting to divide its moneys seven ways instead of six.

BYU may not receive an invitation from a BCS conference like the Big 12 in the near term.  Nevertheless, the school is doing what is within its power to remain relevant in major college football.  On its own merits, with a rumored contract in the works with ESPN, independence appears to have major advantages over staying in the MWC.

As long as the scheduling issues can be conquered.

Interestingly, BYU has three football games scheduled with Big 12 kingpin Texas in four years beginning in 2011.  It would be telling if BYU were to schedule other Big 12 teams in the near future in an effort to foster a relationship.