Monson: No, it’s not ‘fine.’ BYU is whistling past the graveyard if the status quo remains in men’s basketball and football

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Brigham Young Cougars head coach Dave Rose during the game against San Francisco Dons at the Marriott Center Thursday January 12, 2017.

Dave Rose says he believes the West Coast Conference would survive Gonzaga leaving it for the Mountain West. And that BYU would handle the loss, too.

The Cougars have gotten used to handling losses these days.

But has it scarfed enough humble pie in recent seasons — in basketball and football — to consider a return, alongside Gonzaga, to the Mountain West, a league it helped create so many years ago? And would the MWC have the Cougars back?

Um …

“BYU has a great tradition, a strong tradition. What we bring to the fan base and Cougar Nation is pretty unique,” Rose says. “ … This is a real brand, and it has got real power to it, and we will survive. We will have to make adjustments, but we will be fine.”

That word “fine” is an interesting choice by the BYU coach.

Did he mean fine, as in of superior quality, or fine, as in just kind of OK under bleak circumstances, or fine, as in the monetary penalty one pays for indiscretion, or fine, as in the end of a nauseatingly repeated section of music, or fine, as in the slang acronym for Fed-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional?

Nobody really knows.

Take your pick, then.

Already, with Gonzaga in the WCC, Rose’s program has suffered. The decline since football went independent and basketball was stuffed in the Church League is clear to anybody paying attention. The win-loss records have been … well, fine, but the overall effect of playing in high school gyms against teams over which even victories provide little boost in national attention has limited BYU’s reach, its recruiting, its “strong tradition” and its “real brand.”

The fact that Gonzaga thrived in that same environment — until this point, where it has tired of certain aspects of the league’s limitations — while BYU hasn’t is a puzzle for Rose to figure out. But, as the coach acknowledges, Gonzaga’s departure, if it happens, “Obviously, will hurt our league. I mean, that’s a no-brainer.”

So, what’s BYU to do?

Should it consider a return to the Mountain West in basketball and other sports, while leaving football blowing solitarily in a wind that has gusted a bit too strong at times, and at others has been too weak? Would the MWC even consider such a proposal?

Or should BYU stay the course, remaining aligned with the WCC, come what may, and allow its football team to battle the elements of independence and hope for better results, better recruiting, better respect, better realignment in the decade ahead?

In the past, the answer to that question has been easy to answer, but circumstances are evolving in a manner that could change the proper response.

To borrow the politicians’ phrase, twisted though as it has been like compliant gooey dough headed for the oven: Are BYU’s two major sports competitively better off today than they were 10 years ago?

It depends on how you define “better off.”

And it depends on how much stock you put into what BYU football suffered through last season. And how bright the flares burn over BYU basketball, it now having made a habit of missing out on the NCAA Tournament.

BYU is making more money from its individualized TV deal with ESPN than it would have made as a part of the Mountain West. That much is certain.

But the rush of playing big-name teams, such as LSU and Wisconsin and Mississippi State and, looking ahead to the 2018 season, Arizona, Cal, Wisconsin, again, and Washington, by way of being an independent are thrilling only to the extent that the Cougars are actually competitive in those games, and win some of them. Throw Utah in on that difficult pile, too. Otherwise, it’s simply a string of beatdowns showing them how far they’ve fallen.

When BYU can’t cross midfield against the Tigers and loses 40-6 on its home field against the Badgers as the whole mess is being televised across the nation, that cannot be seen as any kind of productive.

It should be noted that in 2016, the Cougars managed to defeat Arizona, Michigan State and Mississippi State, and suffered close losses to Utah, UCLA and West Virginia.

That works, under the banner of independence. And it makes the back half of the annual schedule against droopy opponents tolerable. But stumbling and bumbling at the cleats of better teams and then losing to East Carolina and UMass and Fresno State and Utah State is … fine, under only the last definition.

When respect is the only thing for which to play, what does an independent BYU play for once respect is already lost in early season defeats? When there are no standings to climb, no comparisons to make, no championships to take, the only thing that fills those holes are just enough big wins against top opponents to prove BYU belongs.

Access to prime postseason slots hang in the early balance, and once that balance is tilted by defeat and disappointment, turn out the lights.

Looking forward, the Cougars’ latest football recruiting class fired up nobody.

There are major reasons, all around, for BYU fans to be concerned, not the least of which is basketball hasn’t sniffed the NCAA Tournament for three years.

If the status quo is OK in Provo, that might be the biggest indictment of all.

If keeping basketball in the WCC and football as an independent while treading water until a P5 league invites BYU in is the strategy, that’s hanging an awful lot on wishful thinking, all as the programs suffer and slip.

If independence is maintained, while football continues to get beat by P5 teams, and recruiting continues to slide, and Rose’s program loses Gonzaga as a basketball rival, playing in those same high school gyms, saying everything will be fine in the WCC, BYU is whistling as it walks past the graveyard.

Winning has never been more important for that school’s major sports than it is right now. Unfortunately for BYU, the environment which surrounds it, part of it put in place by its own decisions, has contributed to its losing.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.