Mountain West Moves Swiftly to Replace BYU's Reported Departure
The Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference have overturned the apple cart and the conferences are swapping teams like baseball cards.
According to several reports, BYU will break away from the Mountain West Conference and pursue its football ventures as an independent in 2011. All of its other sports will play in the WAC.
To offset the loss, the Mountain West extended invitations to Fresno State and Nevada to join their conference. Those invitations are expected to be accepted, with official announcements coming soon.
BYU would not confirm the multiple reports that began to hit the Internet Tuesday evening and continued into Wednesday. However, Duff Tittle, associate athletic director in charge of communications, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon:
"We are aware of the many media reports and questions circulating about BYU's conference alignment. As Director of Athletics, Tom Holmoe, explained recently, BYU has been reviewing, and will continue to explore, every option to advance its athletic program. At this point, BYU has no further comment."
Attempts to reach the Mountain West and Fresno State were unsuccessful.
BYU must get approval from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which owns the school and its properties, before it moves forward. All of this movement was not surprising considering rumors of BYU's departure threatened the existence of the Mountain West Conference as a whole. BYU exiting would leave the conference at eight members – with Utah going to the Pac-10 and Boise State coming to the conference for the 2011 season – which would put the conference on the threshold for Football Bowl Subdivision eligibility. The FBS requires each conference to have at least eight teams.
Also, BYU's absence would end all hope for the Mountain West to attain automatic qualifying status. The conference has only met two of the three provisions for automatic qualifying with Utah and with Boise State replacing Utah in 2011. But BYU -- which has finished in the Top 25 each of the past two years of evaluation -- leaving the conference would definitely drop the league out of the running.
Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS, said in an e-mail that he didn't want to speculate on any movement within the Mountain West and also noted that BYU had not contacted the BCS about obtaining automatic qualifying status as an independent. Notre Dame, one of three independents in the Football Bowl Subdivision with Army and Navy, has an agreement with the BCS where it is automatically entered into a BCS bowl if it places in the top eight of the BCS standings. Under the current BCS model, BYU would still qualify for at-large consideration if it could finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings.
But BYU's end goal seems to be money.
BYU has its own self-sustained television network, BYUtv, which caters to most of the world and has a far greater market reach than what the Mountain West television contract structure, which includes The Mtn., VS. and CBS College Sports, currently allows. That contract is reportedly a paltry $1.3 million per team.
ESPN.com reported that the Cougars would be required to play four to six teams from the WAC in exchange for the WAC accepting the other sports into its conference, but the rest of the schedule will have to come together with either guarantee games or deals that give the Cougars at least one home game. BYU currently has games at Oregon State and Texas on its 2011 schedule and against Oregon State, Hawaii and Boise State in 2012. The series against Boise State is slated through 2015.
As for Fresno State and Nevada, if both teams agree to go to the Mountain West, they are required to pay the conference a $5 million exit fee, a fee that was established after Boise State left for the Mountain West. However, it is unconfirmed whether Fresno State or Nevada actually signed the deal, which means the teams might owe just over a million in WAC revenue, the same amount Boise State paid the WAC for its exit.