Why should Brigham Young University go independent in football? BYU football with Bronco Mendenhall at the helm has rekindled the fire left smoldering with the retirement of LaVell Edwards. Mendenhall in his first five years has won 19 more games than Edwards had in his first five years at BYU, and 6 more than Edwards in his last 5 years of coaching. This consistency has Coug fans everywhere excited. Surely maintaining the status quo would be of utmost importance.
The status quo was violently disrupted in one of the most tumultuous off seasons in NCAA history. With the loss of longtime rival Utah to the more prestigious Pac-10 conference, BYU needed to counter to remain on similar ground with ‘that team up North’. BYU has elected to pursue football independence while grounding its other sports in the West Coast Conference.
Why would BYU do this, especially when their inclusion in the MWC would heavily factor into the MWC becoming an automatic qualifier in the BCS? Many people are sneering at this decision, arguing that they do not have a better shot at qualifying as an independent, while still sacrificing its other programs to lesser competition. This would make sense if the move was influenced only by athletic mechanisms.
First one issue needs to be ironed out. Who really cares about golf, volleyball, or soccer? Surely America doesn’t, as proved by these sports never being profitable. When it comes to the bottom line, these sports are irrelevant- not garnering enough attention or money to worry about. There will hardly be a drop off in competition going to the WCC in non-football sports, unless you look at Colorado State as a basketball powerhouse. What matters though is in fact football.
BYU has invested heavily in football this past decade, building state-of-the-art facilities including a new indoor practice facility and athletic center. These with LaVell Edwards stadium give BYU facilities to match anyone in the nation. BYU also has a fan base across the United States thanks to its LDS affiliation, and its own TV network, BYUtv is in 60+ million homes. Is BYU just dreaming of becoming the Notre Dame of the West? Think again.
If BYU wanted to compete with the big boys, it would abandon its honor code. Plus how many BCS schools require an ecclesiastical endorsement to attend ? Because of this BYU does not target the typical recruit, who is already planning his NFL career. BYU targets the kids planning on going on missions, and the occasional non-LDS kid of higher than average character. Sure winning is important, but it isn’t everything. BYU is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Be honest, how many of you know mostly about the church because of what you’ve seen on ESPN?
BYU’s football program is one of the highest publicity tools that the church has. What better way to promote normalcy than through profiling returned missionary turned NCAA football players? Yes, this move makes BYU always a subject of conversation- and by connection, the LDS church. Most Americans flat out don’t know what “Mormons” believe and connect them with the polygamists on the show “Big Love”. The decision to go independent had to be ratified by church leaders, and I’m sure publicity was a factor in the decision. With a recent media campaign aimed at showing that Mormons are in fact normal, this move makes total sense.
So who really cares about a championship? Sure a crystal ball is nice to have, but it is usually passed around between the have’s, and held out of reach from the have not’s. Relegating themselves to Army/Navy-like BCS potential may even push the ball further away, but pushing BYU football and the LDS faith across America is what is important to this university and that’s what independence will do.