It's official. The BYU Cougars will go independent in football beginning with the 2011 season and play in the West Coast Conference (WCC) in all other sports. As far as I can tell, ESPN's Andy Katz broke the story. He reports that BYU is currently in negotiations with ESPN for a TV contract and is working on finalizing their future football schedule. The Cougars have already announced upcoming football series' with Texas, Oregon State, and Boise State.
Is the MWC Dead?
Well, I'd say any hope the league ever had at gaining automatic qualifier status to the BCS is dead. How does a league that looks a lot like the WAC (plus TCU) get an auto bid? It doesn't. The league is now even less attractive to cable networks and still has to split the TV revenue pie more ways than they probably ever wanted with Fresno and Nevada joining in the coming seasons.
Katz has a nice breakdown of the state of the MWC in future years:
If Benson gets his wish and Nevada and Fresno State have to stay in the WAC for the 2011-12 season, then the MWC will have just eight members: New arrival Boise State to join, as well as Colorado State, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming and Air Force. Utah is leaving the MWC after this season for the Pac-10 to join Colorado to form the Pac-12.
What's the Worst Case Scenario for the MWC? The truth is, we're seeing it right now. When the MWC heard of BYU's plans to join the WAC, Commissioner Craig Thompson immediately attempted to weaken the WAC, by bringing in Fresno and Nevada in a last ditch effort to bar BYU's exit. I remarked that the move may have forced BYU to stay temporarily but made it even more of a financial impossibility for the Cougars to stay in the league long term. Why? Because Nevada and Fresno do absolutely nothing in terms of revenue for the conference. They quite simply cost more than they contribute when it comes to TV dollars. So, with two more mouths to feed, the already small pool of MWC TV revenue has actually smaller.
The move to bring in Nevada & Fresno State forced BYU to re-enter negotiations with the MWC to see if they could leverage a sweetheart of a TV deal with Comcast. When Comcast balked, the Cougars walked.
Does This Effect UTEP and/or Conference USA?
Maybe. Now that the MWC is officially on life support there is literally no reason for UTEP to ever consider accepting an invitation to the MWC as it currently stands. Same goes for the MWC's other widely reported potential target, Houston.
Conference USA and the MWC have discussed a "merged" title game or some sort of league consolidation in an effort to shame the BCS into granting the league's an automatic birth. Essentially the plan was to go to the BCS and say "Look anybody that can crash the party is all in the same pot- Give us the AQ and Congress can't complain anymore." Now, with BYU out of that pot, it seems less likely to me that the merged title game scenario can garner an automatic bid which is really the only real reason to ever do it. That's the way I see it, but you never know, tomorrow, the "merger" could quite possibly be the story of the day. Again.
I'm anxious to see how the MWC reacts. Will the MWC add Utah State and further water down the once proud league? Will they stand pat? Will Thompson consider calling his comrade Britton Banowsky and pushing for a new league- be it of 12, 16, or 20 teams?
What's left of the MWC?
New Mexico, TCU, Air Force, and UNLV would look awful good in a new Conference USA West. I think Miner fans would still enjoy having the Lobos back in play and I'm sure Houston, Rice, and SMU would enjoy the bus ride to Ft. Worth to take on the Frogs in a conference game. There are some good teams there who have to be looking at the leftovers of the league and wondering what they've gotten themselves into.
Do you think TCU would rather stay in the MWC right now? With travel to Boise and Laramie when they could be consolidating power in Dallas behind UT?
Thompson and Banowsky are clearly friends. But, Banowsky has to put the league first. Thompson did that when he pried TCU away from the C-USA when the league was down. Now, Banowsky has to look long and hard at the scenarios that work best for the C-USA because by not losing anybody, the league just became the best non-BCS conference in the country in terms of potential for profitability. It's his move.
The MWC was formed because teams like BYU, Utah, and New Mexico were frustrated that the WAC had been diluted with too many teams stretched across the continent that quite frankly weren't very good. Why would those schools want to be in a conference with Houston, Nevada, Fresno State, Boise, or Rice? They were too good for that. Well, in the end, the MWC accomplished one thing: It got Utah to the Pac 10.
That's it. The new MWC looks an awful lot like the old WAC that New Mexico and company couldn't wait to get away from. Karma. Now, the teams those schools didn't want to include into the MWC (Houston, UTEP) wouldn't dare leave the C-USA and it's ESPN deal to join the MWC.
The irony in all this is that BYU, who has decimated the MWC in the last week, is the last non-BCS school to win a National Championship. And, they did it in the WAC.