What’s bad for BYU is good for college football.
What’s good for college football is bad for BYU.
Not in all things, but in this one specific thing.
The Cougars recently have been punched in the lips — called unworthy — and patted condescendingly on the head — tagged a nice, little program — by conferences like the SEC and the ACC, leagues that are insisting that their schools play not only a full slate of conference games, but also a game against a team from one of the other Power-5 leagues. A game against BYU, those leagues have decided, doesn’t rise to that level of legitimacy.
As a part of a playoff scenario in which perception and strength of schedule will have a strong grip on determining who gets in and who gets left out, conferences are trying to improve both — at the expense of an independent program like BYU.
That relegation could change, if those leagues are ever so inclined, and, in practical terms, the Cougars don’t play teams from the SEC and ACC that often. No matter, perception does swing a heavy hammer in the college game, and there have been whispers of additional fallout regarding programs double-clutching on scheduling BYU.
The only independent that will enjoy preferred league-level status is Notre Dame. BYU is considered a notch below. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Most teams in most the major conferences, at least traditionally, are nowhere near as accomplished as the Irish. That’s where assigning competitive value to programs gets not just inexact and unfair, it gets political and financial.
All four of those things, naturally, are synonymous.
Those leagues are taking care of their own, even their own unwashed. For example, how are football programs like Iowa State and Indiana and Wake Forest and Purdue and Washington State and Virginia and Northwestern and Kentucky considered to be competitively favored schools, while BYU is not?
The answer: Just because.
They are in. BYU is out.
Until BYU is in, it will stay out.
It can’t be out and in at the same time. Doesn’t matter how many Heismans and Outlands and Walkers and O’Briens its players have won.
Let’s be candid and clear here: BYU is not an elite football school. It doesn’t measure up to the standard of teams at the upper reaches of the nation’s best conferences. The Cougars’ recent record in occasional big games against ranked teams spells that out. If we’ve learned anything from Utah’s move to the Pac-12, it’s that the cumulative effect of facing that kind of advanced competition week in and week out is a challenge beyond what BYU typically faces, beyond what BYU likely could successfully handle.
But what about the lower reaches? And, in a good year, the reaches in the middle?
BYU propagandists, Bronco Mendenhall included, like to point to the Cougars’ overall win-loss records as an indication of the program’s prowess. It does show a degree of competitive accomplishment. What it doesn’t show is BYU’s ability to run with the big dogs Saturday after Saturday after Saturday. An argument could be made that the Cougars, even back through LaVell Edwards’ glory years, might not have fared nearly so well had they lined up against top-drawer competition as often as teams from the major conferences did.
It takes a fan with a blue sock pulled over his eyes not to see that.
BYU isn’t a world-beater.
But it isn’t dog meat, either.
It’s a proud program worthy of respect.
After his pro career was done, Jim McMahon said the best offense he ever played on was the one he directed at BYU. When he was asked, “What about the Bears?” He said: “Did you not hear me? Let me repeat myself.” And he said it again. The Cougar offense has evolved through the years, maybe devolved, but his opinion carries some heft.
The announcements by the SEC and ACC that games played by their member schools against BYU would not fulfill their requirement to play nonconference Power 5-level competition devalue, then, the Cougars as a football entity. Small wonder that Tom Holmoe, in the aftermath, requested a meeting with SEC commissioner Mike Slive. With the regionalized nature of the college game, that aforementioned perception will always be significant. As it is now, that’s unfortunate for BYU.
But it’s good for college football that leagues are mandating additional better games against better teams. It’s good for coaches, good for players, good for fans.
There will always be scheduled mismatches, those snooze-fests in which powerful teams pay out a lot of money to a bad opponent for the chance to kick it up and down the field en route to an automatic — and dubiously prostituted — win. But this new position adopted by the power leagues, a new emphasis on SOS, will potentially reduce that nonsense by one for every member, broadening the scope of those teams and, theoretically, giving spectators better, more evenly matched games. Adverse effects on teams like BYU, who are a threat to be competitively difficult without the accompanying cachet, are collateral damage, existing for the time being on the wrong side of a growing divide.
Whether Power-5 teams will be motivated to play the Cougars, if the reduced status is widespread, remains to be seen. But, even if they aren’t, fair or unfair, college football on the whole wins.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone.