SALT LAKE CITY -- Cougar fans, it's time for some frank talk. I'm a Ute fan, but I'm asking with sincerity: Why are you excited about going independent?
That's it. And I promise, the intentions of my query are pure.
Let me be clear, I don't think independence is a bad thing. I simply see BYU's future as uncertain. But rather than a sense of measured caution I would expect under the circumstances, the reaction from BYU fans has tended to be jubilant, a clear "win." This has roused my curiosity.
Why are BYU fans excited about this move?
Before you answer, there are two notions I will not accept:
- More money. I'm going to assume BYU will increase its revenue with this move. Why does that excite you? I've never seen dollars and cents show up on a scoreboard or in a box score. (If the Lakers thump the Jazz, it gives me no solace to know that the Millers still made "X" amount of money that night.)
- Every U.S.-resident BYU fan has been able to access every football game and any meaningful basketball game since the MNT cable channel was made accessible through Direct TV. In Utah, it's even more accessible with Comcast.
- The MWC has had more teams ranked (and ranked higher) than ever in football, and just put four teams into the men's NCAA basketball tournament. Not bad for a conference "no one sees."
- Recruiting (good or bad) seems unaffected by the current TV deal. Good MWC teams are recruiting well, unsuccessful ones are having more challenges
- It looks like BYU fans will still have to have cable access to see a majority of its games as an independent whether they're on BYU-TV or one of ESPN's channels. (Yes, I know an occasional game may end up on ABC.)
So, can we agree that revenue and exposure are not reasons for fans to be excited? If not, why?
With those out of the way, let me point out a couple more issues I see...
The schedule: I see BYU fans being very excited about the slate of teams being lined up for the independent future. Not least of which is a significant contract with Notre Dame. Here's the thing, though, BYU has always attracted good opponents for its schedule. And it's always given them home-and-home arrangements or high profile neutral-field one offs (Florida State, USC, Boston College, Syracuse, Washington, Oklahoma, etc).
For discussion's sake, I believe BYU's independent schedule will be something like this: 3-4 games against high-profile or nationally recognized, tough opponents; 5-6 games against middle-of-the-road BCS or non-AQ teams and finally, 3-4 automatic W's. Isn't that about the type of schedule BYU wants? Isn't that the kind of schedule that'll challenge BYU, but give them a chance at achieving a nice record and chance to go to an interesting bowl?
I'd argue that's the type of schedule you already have, and have had for years, all while being able to win a conference championship and establishing rivalries with schools in BYU's geographic region. Now that will be gone. What will you be cheering on your team to achieve year after year? With a loss or two, a national championship is out the window by today's standards. What's left for you, personally, as a fan?
I'll finish by throwing out the move from the MWC to the West Coast Conference for all sports but football (but I'm really just talking about men's basketball).
Most years, the WCC is a one-bid conference. I'll give BYU the benefit by saying with its arrival, the WCC becomes a more likely "at large" bid recipient. Are you really glad to be trading bouts with UNLV, New Mexico and even Wyoming for games with the University of San Francisco and Loyola Marymount? Really? I know Ute and Cougar fans have bagged on our MWC brethren from time to time, but can't we still admit it's been a pretty fun and competitive conference? Haven't we built up some fun intra-conference rivalries? Are you not going to miss dreading the Y's trip to the Pit?
Cougar fans, please chime in. To this Ute fan, BYU's move to independence looks like a wash bathed in uncertainty. Yet, my BYU peers seem delighted. I understand why the BYU administration may like it (revenue). I understand why the LDS Church leadership may like it (exposure). But what's in it for you, as a fan? Let me know where you're coming from on this.
I'm looking forward to your responses.