Will BYU Abandon Utah State To Try To Achieve Greater Religious Acceptance?
This is a two-part series of Bleacher Report articles dealing with BYU and WAC D-Day.
The first deals with reports that BYU is considering another conference. The last deals with what might be the best scenario for BYU.
BYU to the WCC
I have been scratching my head over this one. Reports are out that BYU is seriously considering joining the West Coast Conference for all sports over the Western Athletic Conference.
The WCC is a collection of small religious privates. You may think you've never heard of them, but you actually have. Every March Gonzaga is an NCAA Tournament team, and St. Mary's lately has been on the NCAA basketball tourney bubble.
The WCC schools are located in San Diego, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Portland, and Spokane. They aren't very media-relevant in any of those markets, but they are in some great markets.
Still, why would BYU join them over the WAC?
Well, the markets argument is a good one. The WAC has lousy markets. Unless they show a real plan to improve that (i.e. massive expansion), why would BYU want to join?
The WCC may not offer much athletically, but they do offer good markets for the BYU network.
But I think the real issue is an unreported one: The WCC is a conference of Catholic universities.
Mormons have the numbers to be politically relevant on a national stage in a country where voter turnout is suppressed, but they are unflatteringly viewed by a lot of Christian Americans as a cult.
Does it not suggest a tacit level of acceptance of Mormons' commitment to God for a conference of exclusively Catholic universities to admit BYU?
It has been argued that the LDS Church injected itself and a lot of Mormon money into the California gay marriage debate in order to gain wider acceptance in the greater Christian right. The argument is that the LDS' leadership on that fight was a calculated political maneuver rather than one done from heartfelt conviction.
Is that the real value the WCC is offering BYU—a chance for the mainstream US religious world to meet BYU on equal terms and see that they aren't green-skinned aliens?
Is this merely part of a bigger strategy to allow Mormons to occasionally co-opt the strength of the religious right to achieve political goals like Christian denominations can?
Where would this leave Utah State?
Well...in a bad place. Without BYU, the WAC has no glue to keep UH in place and probably falls to five members...which would likely cost them their NCAA tournament basketball bid.
From there the conference would probably collapse, leaving Utah State out in the cold.
While I don't begrudge BYU if they feel that the religious gains membership in the WCC might offer outweigh anything the WAC can bring to the table—to me that has to do more with the WAC not making the right argument—I wonder if there is more of a perceived value gain there than actual value gain.
Once you let the WAC fail, there is simply nothing that can be done for Utah State at the FBS level. On an emotional level BYU may take some heat over this in Utah, as they were an equal partner in the first tumbler in this realignment procession.
Having two public schools at the highest level of competition suggests Utah has clout that states like Montana and others do not. It does suggest something big-time about the state. The loss of Utah State to a lower level of competition would be a black eye for a state that is mostly Mormon.
I think BYU and the LDS Church should take a second and really consider this. Utah State is a public school that in the grand scheme of things is pro-Mormon—certainly much more than BYU's current conference mates, who really are more pro-playing in front of revenue-generating BYU crowds than pro-Mormon.
Does BYU really want to let USU potentially fall out of the FBS ranks so BYU can move into a slightly nicer (in terms of the needs of the BYU network) temporary home?
There is something to knowing who your real friends are. In the long term, is it smart for BYU to let one of its real friends drown?
I think BYU's initial instincts with this—join the WAC, support Utah State, get what BYU needs for its network—were inspired.
A move to the WCC seems more like flavor of the week thinking. While there could be some gains to it, I think the odds of achieving the high-level gains discussed here are minuscule. The WCC is just not that media-relevant, and their fanbases and alumni bases are just too small to leverage their communities all that well.
(Still, from a conference design I think they organically happened upon a pretty good setup, stringing together multiple small alumni bases to create more media attention in big markets. The WAC and other conferences could learn a lot from the WCC example in that regard.)
BYU affiliation works well for the WCC but makes little sense for BYU on a number of levels.
The last report in this series (due out later today) will deal with getting the best return for BYU with the least pushback.
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