When Bronco Mendenhall was asked recently what he thought about other Mountain West Conference officials being critical of the Brigham Young University Cougars' move to independence, his response was frank and succinct, "I really don't care, quite frankly. We've made the very best decision for our young team, for our program, and for this institution and, in my mind, for our faith for exposure. I'm not concerned about whether it's a popular decision or not."
Such seems to be the pervasive attitude at BYU: BYU did what was best for BYU. Athletic director Tom Holmoe has said repeatedly that he is concerned about exposure for the program. That was what was most important. Well, it seems recruits feel the same way.
It wasn't long after Joe Sampson of San Mateo Junior College heard that BYU was going independent that he committed to bring his football talents to Provo, Utah. BYU's strong victory over Pac-10 member Washington, a game that Sampson attended, did not hurt either, to be sure.
Sampson was choosing between BYU and Utah. He said Utah's decision to play in the Pac-10 was boding well for Utah, but when he heard that BYU would go independent he started to see how much exposure could be out there for any player aligning himself with the Cougars. He told his cousin, BYU player Brian Logan, about his feelings.
Totalbluesports.com reported that Sampson said the news about BYU going independent really excited him. '"He was going to come out here for a visit and had that all planned," Logan said. "Then BYU goes independent a couple of days before he was going to come out here for a visit, and man, that changed everything. He just said, ‘Man, with that schedule coming up and being on ESPN against those schools, I can't turn this down."'
Sampson saw playing teams like Notre Dame, Texas and other Pac-10 schools as an opportunity he couldn't pass up. Which is the exact thought BYU administrators likely had when they both declared independence and decided to schedule some top notch opponents.
Logan, who is close to his cousin, said BYU "going independent would have to be that tipping point." BYU secured the skills of one of the top players as a result of their new found independence. This may be just the beginning of the victories BYU will win in the recruiting battle with their in-state rival, the University of Utah. While the Utes surely have an advantage that the winner of their conference gets an automatic bid to a BCS game next year, that alone doesn't seem to be the determining factor.
The ability of BYU to play games all across the country, against some of the nations best teams, seems to be important to players. Expect more signings of this nature.
While we are not sure how independence will shake out for the Cougars we know this much, to one recruit, the availability of BYU's games on ESPN and ABC, and the ability to play the nation's top programs, independence is looking great so far.
Next year, when BYU's bowl future is more clear, we will know if this gamble worked out for the Cougars. Until then, BYU fans and recruit's families will just have to deal with being able to see BYU nationally, something the Mountain West Conference always struggled with.