Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
BYU's decision to leave the Mountain West Conference for football independence and West Coast Conference membership is the next act, if not the culminating act in the school's own "Manifest Destiny."
BYU originally decided to leave the WAC and help form the Mountain West Conference to restore rivalries and refocus attention on the schools that formed the backbone of collegiate sports in the inter-mountain west. BYU had gotten lost in the 16-team WAC; 11 years later, BYU found itself lost within its own league.
The Mountain West Conference had ambitious plans and a forward-thinking approach to branding and distribution. Unfortunately, the mechanisms were slow to match the league's objectives and precious time was lost as the MWC's fledgling television network struggled to gain both a geographical and technological foothold.
Less than a year after formation of the mtn. (Mountain West Sports Network), and with the network still more than a year away from landing on satellite, BYU and the University of Utah retained an attorney in an attempt to explore distribution options for its fans. It was telling that those two schools were the most concerned about the MWC's national TV "dead zone." BYU and Utah were and remain to this day the most important institutions in the league, the two schools with the most to lose from a deal that limited exposure opportunities and lessened relevance on a national scale.
Utah did the most to improve its own situation by recording two undefeated football seasons, winning two BCS bowl games an ultimately landing a Pac-10 invitation. The Utes in essence earned their way out of the Mountain West mess, while BYU was left to languish under terms of an agreement that the school had long ago deemed untenable.
According to school administrators, BYU considered the MWC media contract a "bad deal," and that it had done the best it could with that deal. Something had to be done, and it was not going to be accomplished by getting seven or eight other school presidents to vote on it.
The MWC could have addressed BYU's long-standing concerns relative to TV rights, distribution channels and revenue sharing long before football independence became a viable and then likely option in Provo. For whatever reason, the league and its member institutions never either fully appreciated or valued BYU to the extent they should have, and now, the MWC's long-term future will be put to the test. Without BYU and Utah, media contracts will need to be re-drawn, and just how much value a league possesses without the Cougars and Utes will soon be known.
As good as TCU's football program is, the Horned Frogs have difficulty drawing fans from the massive Metroplex; its home sellout for last year's home game with Utah was only the second in 25 years. Boise State's football program has enjoyed considerable national appeal and success, yet it has ESPN to thank for much of its exposure, and the WAC's relative weakness in football thank for much of its dominance. How the Broncos will fare in a likely ESPN-free Mountain West Conference is anyone's guess, but they may not be SportsCenter darlings anymore, and undefeated seasons may be harder to come by.
Meantime, BYU is poised to capitalize on an accumulation of assets that clearly corresponds with a mission that is nationwide and worldwide in scope. The assets are:
Physical--broadcasting and athletic facilities
Historical--a championship tradition and consistent success
Cultural--an LDS-centric national fan base and worldwide network of supporters
Anecdotal--strong relationships with national media partners and healthy name recognition
By going independent in football and securing WCC membership under many of its own terms, BYU will have the unique ability to determine exposure for its program.
BYU will be able to exercise control over distribution and scheduling, and be able to do so without needing to equally share revenue with some institutions that not only rode, but at times weighed down BYU's coattails.
BYU is today better prepared than any other school not named Notre Dame to take its "Manifest Destiny" independent on the gridiron, and succeed in doing so.