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BYU football to go independent; other sports join WCC



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PROVO -- BYU has confirmed it will leave the Mountain West Conference and become independent in football and join the West Coast Conference (WCC) in all other sports.

BYU had an earlier plan in place to go independent in football and join the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) for all other sports, but that fell through after the Mountain West Conference (MWC) invited WAC members Fresno State and the University of Nevada to join. Those two schools accepted despite a $5 million penalty, which the WAC is demanding they pay.

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"The big driving decision was going to be football independence," KSL's Greg Wrubell said Tuesday. "Once that decision was made, BYU was unlikely to go back on that decision regardless of any concessions the Mountain West Conference might have made toward BYU."

BYU had until Sept. 1 to notify the MWC of its intentions for the 2011-12 season. The move to the WCC will be effective June 30, 2011.

BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall broke the news to his players after practice Tuesday.

"(Mendenhall) brought us all together at the end of practice and told us this would be our last season in the Mountain West and that starting in 2011 we will be going independent," said BYU quarterback Riley Nelson.

"I think guys are really excited," said Matt Reynolds, BYU offensive lineman: "It's a new chapter in BYU history and it is something we get to be a part of.

"There are a lot of great teams out there and now we get to schedule whoever the Athletic Director would like us to play and that brings with it a lot of different risks and a lot of different benefits. Playing different people all the time I think will end up being a great ting for the program."

According to ESPN, BYU will receive assistance from ESPN in televising its games and helping its football schedule -- a big bonus to BYU fans across the United States.

"Certainly there are reasons for the school to be excited ... and I do think fans should be equally excited," Wrubell said. "Fans around the country who may not have access to their program now will, plus the schedules will change and modify season to season."

In a statement released Tuesday, which does not mention BYU or its move to independence, MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said, "Our Board of Directors' diligent exploration of options to advance the membership's objectives is ongoing. This includes conversations with our television partners to address issues of mutual importance, as well as determining the optimal configuration for the conference and investigating the possibility of various collaborative alliances. We look forward to the future with great excitement -- particularly welcoming recent additions Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada into the Mountain West."

WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich began talks with BYU after the WAC plan fell through and was able to put together the deal in just a couple of weeks.

The WCC had looked into possible expansion in the past year but decided to stick with eight teams. However, the chance to get a school the caliber of BYU was too good to pass up. The conference has just started talks to negotiate a new television deal and the new addition should only make any deal more lucrative.

The West Coast Conference
The WCC consists of eight private religious institutions from the states of California, Oregon and Washington. They are:
  • Gonzaga University
  • University of Portland
  • St. Mary's College of California
  • Pepperdine University
  • University of San Francisco
  • University of San Diego
  • Santa Clara University
  • Loyola Maramount University
Seven of the eight schools are affiliated with the Catholic Church; Pepperdine is affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

With perennial power Gonzaga, an emerging program at Saint Mary's that won two games in the NCAA tournament last year and programs like Portland and San Diego that have had success in recent years, the WCC is in position to be a regular multiple-bid league for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. BYU has been to 25 NCAA tournaments, including the past four seasons.

Dick Harmon, sports writer for the Deseret News, speculated to KSL Newradio as to the main reasons for BYU's long awaited decision:

"I think BYU is doing this for exposure," he said. "They've been doing it for control of their own facility, and then I think money is probably third."

Mendenhall reiterated that point in a phone call with KSL, "It'll be a chance for tremendous exposure for our program and I love the idea of being more visible."

"It's exciting, I'll tell you that. It'll be a lot different," said legendary BYU coach Lavell Edwards, who admitted he's for conferences, but feels this was a move BYU had to make. "I think it something that is well thought out and studied over a period of time with the president and others that have been involved in the decision. And in many cases, probably left with not a whole lot of alternatives.

"I just think it is going to be exciting to see how it goes the next few years."

Wrubell suggested other benefits of the WCC as "a conference with good travel destinations, a good recruiting base for BYU and a good national reputation when it comes to men's basketball, which is the other main sport driving any decision."

"BYU's basketball program, if the story is true, will be able to find a resting place. It may be only temporary until some other dominoes fall in college football and the college conferences," Harmon said. "So what it means is that BYU will be able to keep the basketball program in a very good arena, perhaps for a short time, but in a very good arena."

The WCC does not support all of the sports BYU currently has -- namely softball, swimming and diving, and track and field. It is not known yet what will happen to those sports.

BYU will compete in the WCC in baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's golf, women's soccer, men's and women's tennis, and women's volleyball.

"Who knows whether this is a short-term or long-term fix," Wrubell said. "Certainly with BYU independence it makes them much more able and viable an option for any other BCS league, for example, should it choose to expand and look BYU's way."

Currently, the only other independent teams in the NCAA are Notre Dame, Army and Navy.

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