As BYU enters a new era as a football independent this fall, expect the unorthodox move to be watched very closely by the Air Force Academy, which should be pondering whether independence is in the best interest of the Falcon football program, and the Academy as a whole.
If the two share no other similarities, both schools have large national followings and are or were big fish in a very little pond.
Generally schools benefit from conference affiliation in scheduling, media coverage, and BCS access. However, strong indicators suggest the Academy may able to do better in these areas on its own.
Air Force boasts a stadium having capacity on par with most BCS programs, and is easily accessed from anywhere in the country. That means more ticket revenue for lower travel cost.
Compare that with the Academy’s new fellow MWC heavyweight, Boise State. There is good reasons the only BCS schools the Broncos have been able to strike home-and-home deals are Oregon, Oregon St and Washington St, and it isn’t the blue turf.
Add in the fact that Air Force carries national appeal as a service academy and the king of the triple-option, and you might understand why Air Force has been one of the very few non-AQ programs that has been able to play BCS schools regularly and almost entirely on a home-and-home basis over the past decade.
Air Force can schedule, and there should be no concern about the Falcons’ ability to fill an independent slate.
Let’s be honest. The Mtn. network is not the best, and despite significant strides in adding HD telecasts, that improvement has yet to increase the Academy’s bottom line.
For BYU, it was too little too late. Consider the possibility that Air Force team up with fellow service academies Army and Navy (both independents), not as conference affiliates, but as partners in a Service Academy Network.
If such a network could produce the same revenue as the Mtn. Air Force would more than triple its cut as it would have share the profit with only two other schools—not nine.
That’s not an unreasonable possibility, considering the Mtn. just lost its most profitable markets in the Wasatch front and the Metroplex. The possibilities are eye-opening.
There is probably little difference between Air Force’s chances of landing a BCS slot as an independent vs. as a member of the Mountain West, so the relevant consideration is the BCS revenue share that is funneled to the Academy, even without the Falcons playing in a BCS game.
Given that the funds granted to the non-AQs are meager to begin with, and have to be divided among some 65 +/- schools, there is a strong possibility that the BCS share received by Air Force could be offset or even outweighed by not having to share the booty of its own bowl game with the Mountain West. That is a question only the Academy can answer.
At the end of the day, Air Force is likely to find itself in a position of providing for the other MWC schools at its own detriment.
Every institution has the right and the responsibility to act in the interest of its own students, which very well might mean independence for the Academy.