How long is the West Coast Conference relationship with BYU going to last? “How long before BYU moves on to the Big-12?” I think Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune asks a very legitimate question about the future of BYU Athletics. Typically like most BYU fans I find myself more annoyed with Monson’s logic with respects to the Cougars in his columns, and more often than not he shows his red colors, but in this instance he came across in a poignant, yet very legitimate way.
How long is a school with 33,000 students going to feel good about playing smaller liberal arts oriented schools (albeit faith based), in basketball facilities scarcely even one third at best the size of the Marriott Center (present capacity 22,700)? While the happiness of the ability to tell Craig Thompson and the MWC good riddance and to shake-off the restrictions of a terrible TV contract dictated by the Comcast Cable-TV Cartel, more questions abound about the future of BYU especially with respects to the rest of their sports programs. The WCC has all the appearances of a “quick fix” and this is for an institution that helped lead the rebellion 12 years ago against the 16 team WAC? I’m certain WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich realizes that in all likelihood this relationship might not last formally beyond mid decade at least so many people think.
Let’s put some facts on the table that most football fans realize and that is the Big-12 as we know it is an absolute mess in more words than Texas Tech Head Coach Tommy Tuberville could ever come up with. Its biggest contract with ABC/ESPN is due to expire in 2016 and could produce the further seismic shifting that many love to speculate about when talking about future league alignments. Without question it will suffer poll degradation once Nebraska departs for the Big-Ten in 2011, and exit fee issues will linger well into 2012 and perhaps beyond with the departure of Colorado, not to mention possible financial repercussions once they cease their championship game.
Fox Sports might have rescued Dan Beebe and his league this past summer, but by mid decade this will be an alignment looking to split up or at least re-organize in a significant if not substantial way. All speculation with respects to Houston, TCU and other schools aside, BYU has been looked at as a possible partner in the league or its member institutions since its inception in 1993. The financial issues more than anything as well as the implications of charging exit fees is what has been the factor of not finding replacements, and without question this has been factored into the decision by the administration at BYU to make this move.
A tell tale sign of a future league affiliation for BYU might well be the number of Big-12 schools that follow the lead of Texas and sign home and home OOC deals with the Cougars starting in 2013, 2014 and thereafter.
Independence for the Long Term?
Probably the biggest drawback for BYU in this deal is what this could mean for their basketball program which has a history of being competitive for over 2 decades before their football program first flexed its muscle. BYU won NIT championships in 1951 and 1966 under long-time legendary basketball coach Stan Watts. It is obvious that the power conferences that make up the BCS in football also have more leverage in placing increasing numbers of at large bid teams into the NCAA tournament. The WCC might have darlings such as Gonzaga and St Mary’s that have allowed this smaller more obscure league to gain more NCAA bids, but how long will it last? Notre Dame might have made a statement for a century as a football independent, but how has their lack of Big-Ten affiliation affected their basketball program over the last 2 decades or so? While power leagues like the PAC-10 have down years like they had last season, what will a down year in the WCC do to a BYU team? What arrangements can be made for the other BYU athletic teams that are not covered in the WCC?
How long will it take for the jury to deliberate on this football independence is anyone’s guess. The first two years of scheduling opponents from a league of smaller less fortunate football schools (WAC or what’s left of it) that could implode with a Hawaii alignment with the Big West for other sports will cause many BYU fans to question the administrations wisdom, especially if an undefeated BYU team in 2011 or 2012 is passed over for a BCS bowl. But if by 2013, 2014 and thereafter BYU and its own network and ESPN make money and are a ratings success, what could this mean for power programs like a USC or Texas which might look at BYU as a laboratory lead to? Time will tell.