Independence is fraught with dangers, uncertainty
Provo • A rousing cheer went up Tuesday afternoon at the BYU practice field when coach Bronco Mendenhall told his team the football program was breaking away from the Mountain West Conference beginning in 2011 and going independent.
Whether the bold gamble will be cheered years from now is anybody's guess.
The change leaves the football-playing Cougars without the obvious eight set opponents to play in 2011 but it also raises concerns over whether a potentially winning team will have a postseason bowl to attend, and whether or not being able to play for a conference championship will have an effect on recruiting and fan interest.
BYU officials said in a news release Tuesday that many of those questions will be answered at a noon news conference today at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
However, Mendenhall said he believes school officials chose the best option.
"I don't consider myself a student of all the national [college football] landscape, etc.," he said. "The No. 1 thing to me, on a broader perspective other than football, is exposure. And I love the idea of being more visible" through a better television arrangement than the one BYU has with the MWC's TV partners.
The coach may have let a few of the agreement's details out when he said, upon being asked about the difficulty of scheduling, "the only thing I have been told so far is there will be some elements of existing WAC partners, which would be a portion of the [schedule], and then a national schedule, basically, East Coast to West Coast."
Certainly, history has shown that football independence is fraught with danger. More than 50 Division I football programs have been independent at one time or another, and only three remain: Notre Dame, Army and Navy.
Notre Dame enjoys BCS automatic-qualifying status if it finishes in the top eight of the BCS standings; Army and Navy must finish in the top two to be assured a BCS berth. It is not likely that BYU would be afforded Notre Dame-like treatment from the BCS' board of directors, executive director Bill Hancock hinted to The Tribune last week, while stressing that he cannot speak on the board's behalf.
Mendenhall said he's not worried that most bowls, if not every one of them, already have agreements in place with certain conferences and there might not be room for a potentially bowl-eligible BYU team.
"I am confident there will be [bowl] tie-ins, and tie-ins every year. The BYU brand, and the BYU team, and the BYU production is a marketable thing, I believe, and I would guess as the details come out, that will be proven. But again, I am not certain."
Mendenhall said Notre Dame would top his "wish list" of schools he would like to play every year.
"I would love to have a long-term series with Notre Dame. I think that would be a great one," he said.
Most of the Cougars' nonfootball sports teams will join the West Coast Conference. Indications mounted late Tuesday that three other sports softball, men's and women's swimming and track and field may end up in the WAC.