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Should The Mountain West Try To Make Up With BYU?

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Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Trying to rekindle a relationship after a messy breakup has a lower rate of success than the four-team parlay you screw up with your bookie every weekend.

By any reasonable measure, it is a horrible idea that is destined for failure.

Unless we’re talking about a college football conference like the Mountain West trying to get back in the good graces of an old flame like the Brigham Young Cougars. Then it actually makes sense. 

BYU’s breakup from the Mountain West back in 2010 was all about television money. The Cougars wanted the ability to negotiate their own television rights for home games. When Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson told the university that it wouldn’t happen, the Cougars jumped ship, became independent and signed a deal with ESPN through 2018. 

The college football landscape has now changed to the point that Thompson and the Mountain West are not only open to the idea of letting a team negotiate their own television rights, that’s exactly what they offered Boise State to bail out on the Big East/American Athletic Conference.

The Mountain West has given no indication that it plans to expand beyond its current 12-team format, but let’s be real here: every conference is still looking to expand. And when it comes time for the Mountain West to look beyond their current footprint, they need only look toward their old friends in Provo, Utah.

Getting the Cougars back would benefit the conference in a number of ways.  They’re the only conference member, past or present, that can claim a national championship. Sure, that title came before the Mountain West existed in 1984, but it’s not as though the Cougars have faded into anonymity since then. They’ve finished the season in the top 25 of the Coaches’ Poll in five of the last seven seasons.  

BYU also boasts a solid national footprint. ESPN wouldn’t make a multi-million dollar investment on a team that didn’t draw fans from all over the country. Boise State is the only other team in the conference that generates buzz beyond its regional stronghold and alumni networks.

So what’s in it for BYU?

The biggest thing would be competitive security. In 2010, BYU AD Tom Holmoe told The Salt Lake Tribune that the move “increases access to our games for fans everywhere and it increases the exposure for our student-athletes.” 

Under the rules of the BCS, this statement made some sense, but when the playoff system takes over, Holmoe’s increased exposure evaporates.

BYU will have the same shot as any other school to get into the national semifinals since there are no automatic qualifiers, but there is still plenty of postseason money to be made outside of football’s final four. As a member of the Mountain West, the Cougars would enjoy automatic entry into one of the former BCS bowls provided they finish as the highest rated team from “the group of five” (Mountain West, Big East/American Athletic Conference, MAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA). As an independent, the Cougars would have to battle for one of the few at large bids with schools from power conferences like the SEC and Big Ten. 

Take a moment if you need it. Only the NCAA can take something as simple as a four-team playoff and make it more complicated than a lecture on theoretical physics.

Coming back won’t be as easy as a wink and a handshake, though. There’s no free admission into athletic conferences. Undoubtedly a return to the Mountain West would mean that BYU would have to give the gate revenue generated at home games as well as half of its bowl game winnings back to the conference. That’s money that the school has undoubtedly gotten used to keeping in its own coffers over the last two years. 

The other major logistical problem would be the need to add another school to keep the conference at an even 14. Even in this theoretical era of forgiveness, its doubtful that fellow defectors TCU or Utah would see the benefit of leaving the power conferences they moved to, but who knows?

Stranger things have happened.

Like the time you actually hit that four-team parlay.