Brigham Young University today officially announced that it will leave the Mountain West Conference for the 2011-12 season. It will become affiliated with the West Coast Conference in all sports except football–BYU will become one of only a few independent football schools, joining Notre Dame, Army, and Navy.
The move by BYU bucks a major trend in college football. Recent events–Utah and Colorado to the Pac-10; Boise St., Nevada, and Fresno St. to the MWC–have been of schools generally “moving up” in the college football hierarchy.
At one point in the past few weeks, BYU had a Memorandum of Understanding with the Western Athletic Conference. That MOU essentially gave BYU the right to negotiate and distribute its own TV rights for football, while being part of the WAC in other sports–likely what they are to receive from the WCC.
This is where the legal issues arose. Fresno State and Nevada, both in the WAC, had voted to allow BYU into their conference under those circumstances. They also both agreed to a $5 million penalty if either were to leave the conference abruptly. Only a few days after the agreement, both schools announced they would be leaving to join the MWC. The next few months will be a battle of the lawyers between these schools and the WAC over this buyout clause. Neither school has the budgetary capabilities to easily absorb that fee, so you can bet on a drawn-out process before that is settled.
Without the benefit of a conference affiliation, BYU will be left to its own devices to fill a schedule of 10+ games each year. ESPN, as part of the deal it appears, will be assisting BYU in scheduling games against teams such as Oregon State, Texas, and Notre Dame. These games against BCS conference schools will be vital in BYU’s quest to break into the lucrative BCS bowl games, likely a major contributing factor in today’s decision.
Another major factor is likely distribution and exposure. BYU is unique in that it has it’s own television network which is available in close to 60 million homes in the United States. BYU-TV is available on the basic package of Dish Network, DirecTV, and Cox Cable. Previously, BYU games were only available on The Mtn. network. It is likely that BYU expects to use BYU-TV to dramatically increase television revenues.
BYU will hold a press conference Wednesday, at noon (MT), which will be broadcast on the BYU television network, BYU-TV.