In a move that came out of nowhere, last night word leaked the BYU was opting to go independent in football, joining the likes of Notre Dame, Army, and Navy. This all happened very fast, with a few tweets turning into a snowball effect that lead to confirmation this morning. Now, it appears this move has been in the making for quite some time.
Jeremy Mauss at MWC Connection broke the news yesterday with this story. It should give you an idea about how quickly this went from rumor to confirmed.
The MWC has never been a lucrative conference for its institutions. They boast a TV contract that brings in a paltry $1.5 million per school, despite the quality football being played. Utah and TCU have both had tremendous seasons over the past five years and the conference itself was on the doorstep of an automatic qualifier bid in the BCS.
With both BYU and Utah leaving, not only is that dream dead, but the conference itself may be obsolete. What a difference a few months make. If the Big 12 had collapsed, the MWC was in position to scoop up some of the teams, steal a BCS AQ tag, and likely become a bigger national player. All of that is out the window.
After the jump, I'll break down how this all happened and which TV network put the wheels in motion.
To be clear, the move to independence is for football only. The rest of BYU's sports will join the WAC. It's also highly likely that BYU plays a good amount of it's games against WAC teams, cutting all ties with the MWC.
There's been plenty of rumblings that the MWC teams have been unhappy with the current TV deal. The conference has gained plenty of national recognition, but hasn't parlayed that into better TV deals for its members. With BYU, TCU, and Utah, it shouldn't be that hard to do. Instead, while the Big 6 conferences continued to sign bloated TV contracts, the MWC has continued to lag behind.
On the surface, it appeared BYU was always going to be left behind in conference expansion. It was clear the Pac-10 didn't want them, opting instead to pick up Utah. The stigma that comes along with the religious affiliation was too strong and polarizing for the Pac-10 to fully consider them. Opting for independence was the right move for BYU.
Without a conference to call home -- and the subsequent TV deal that follows -- BYU needed assurances that they would receive the TV revenues that every NCAA school so desperately wants. ESPN -- who else? -- was the driving factor in BYU's move away from the MWC and to independence.
So, there's that. Once again, the TV networks stuck their hands into expansion and made things happen. Greg Wrubell also states the reason ESPN has been ahead of everyone else in reporting the story stems from ESPN's deal with BYU. They knew this would happen because they'd been orchestrating it. This is what happens when ESPN -- for the 8 millionth time -- becomes the story.
It frustrates me to no end that a news organization creates their own stories by inserting themselves into situations like these. It seems more than unethical that a network can broker a deal and break the news at the same time.
Additionally, it makes me more than uneasy that TV networks are controlling the landscape of college athletics. ESPN paid the SEC hush money -- $2 billion dollars of it -- to retain the rights to SEC football and stop the possibility of the SEC Network going to Fox. They followed that up by overpaying for the ACC. Finally, ESPN stepped in and saved the Big 12. This all seems like a terrible conflict of interest and a road the NCAA shouldn't be heading down.
When we thought conference realignment was finally over, BYU stumbled into the room drunk at 3 AM and tried to restart the party. What will likely follow is another chain reaction of events, this time in the lower tier conferences.
Remember when Boise State joined the MWC a few months ago? They may want to call take-backs. The Broncos can move back to the WAC without penalty and it's likely they'll do so.
In the MWC, teams should be scrambling to find a landing area. Will TCU join Beebe's brigade of idiots in the Big 12? How many teams will the WAC pick up? How much fun will Robb Akey have mercilessly making fun of Boise State? We'll find out, and likely find out very soon.
Finally, BYU becoming an independent shows that any of the big schools could perhaps make the move. USC could threaten independence as a bargaining chip in the new Pac-12. Texas can take their ball and go home whenever they want in the near future should they so choose. Instead of Notre Dame being force to join a conference, other schools may very well choose to leave conferences and join the Irish in freedom.
One things for sure: this was not only surprising, but also a scary precedent. If TV networks like ESPN are allowing -- and even encouraging -- schools to opt out of their conferences by offering decent TV deals, there could be some big dominoes that fall. Stay tuned because the landscape of NCAA football resembles the San Andreas fault line right before an earthquake.