BYU is coming off a solid 10-3 season in its first year as an Independent. The Cougars played a soft schedule in the second half of 2011, which helped the team to rebound after a 1-2 start. Although BYU is a solid program, choosing the Independence route over a conference is an interesting debate for the next 15-20 years.
Is Independence a Mistake for BYU?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Few schools could leave a conference -- particularly a non-power conference -- and improve their standing. BYU did. BYU’s recruiting base of Mormon athletes and/or athletes seeking the honor code is going to be attracted to Provo no matter the league. If anything, independence helps BYU’s recruiting cause by giving the Cougars a unique cachet. Utah goes to the Pac-12, BYU is independent. At least compared to its chief rival, BYU won't have to battle the perception problem of being in an inferior league. The Cougars will have trouble scheduling, but they’ll have their share of marquee games, too. BYU has played Florida State and Oklahoma, it has a series with Notre Dame and Texas, not to mention a handful of games against Pac-12 opponents. Moreover, BYU has more national exposure than it ever did as a team in the Mountain West. BYU was on an ESPN network just five times from 2006 to 2010. In one season as an independent, BYU was on an ESPN network 10 times. Will this be a long-term solution for BYU? Probably not. BYU eventually will end up wherever it can best compete for a national title. I assume that will be a conference. But for now, the Big 12 and Pac-12 aren’t interested. At least as an independent, BYU doesn’t have to deal with the revolving door of Mountain West membership.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
My instincts tell me that long-term Independence for BYU is a major mistake. The Cougars are a unique brand that plays nationally, attracts a very specific audience and will be just fine in the short-term. But Mark Emmert has openly spoken about his concerns about the growing gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" in college football. And to be one of those "haves," BYU will need to be in a power conference. Aside from not getting huge conference-based TV payouts each year, scheduling might be the most obvious issue. Finding good games in the early months won't be an issue, but getting quality opponents to come to Provo in late October and November will be virtually impossible. So if the Cougars are consistently playing Fresno State, Wyoming and New Mexico in the second half of the season, they will likely never land in the Top 4 at the end of the year. Which, in case you missed it, is the only thing any football office in America cares about now.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
For now, I think this is the right move for BYU. The Cougars are able to schedule nationally and have upgraded television exposure with an ESPN contract. I do have doubts about this decision as a long-term move. Scheduling will be more difficult if conferences continue to go to nine league games. A weak schedule also won’t help BYU’s hopes of getting into the four-team playoff or access into one of the premier bowls.
I’ve always thought the move to Independence was a short-term decision as the program bides time until the next round of realignment hits college football. The Big 12 and Big East have been mentioned as possible landing spots, but the Cougars can take some time and pick their next home. It may take 10-20 years, but I expect BYU will join a conference again – whether it’s the Big East, Big 12 or a new league on the west coast with Boise State and the Cougars as the anchors.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
It depends what other legitimate options the school had at the time it made the move. I think being an Independent, for BYU, is favorable to being the Mountain West (as it is now constructed), but I believe the Big 12 would be a better solution than being an Independent. For BYU, and really for every school in the nation, it comes down to the following in the new landscape of college football: Is your schedule good enough to get you invited to the new four-team playoff. Right now, it’s debatable whether BYU’s 2012 schedule would be strong enough to put the Cougars in position to be a Final Four team (can we call it that?) even if it runs the table. There would be no worries if BYU was in the Big 12; the schedule in that league will always be strong enough to warrant inclusion in the postseason.
As far as the here and now goes, I don't think BYU made a mistake by going independent in football. With a four-team playoff going into effect in 2014, the Cougars' independent status doesn't impact their chances of getting into the playoff any more than it would if they were still in the Mountain West or another mid-major conference. So as it stands right now, BYU has total control over its schedule, and, more importantly, doesn't have to share any of the revenue generated from its TV deal with ESPN. After all, this sort of arrangement has worked pretty well for Notre Dame and NBC, right?
Also, BYU's independent status should put them in prime position to capitalize on the next wave of conference expansion, if it chooses to do so. Chances are the move to a four-team playoff will do little, if anything, to put an end to the evolving landscape that college football conferences have become. If this movement continues and say the Pac-12 or Big 12 gets serious about adding more teams, then BYU should be one of the first schools to get a call. Should that happen, BYU doesn't have to worry about breaking its contract with any conference as it pertains to football, making any such transition basically seamless. The Cougars' other sports are participating in the West Coast Conference, but if we've learned anything during this latest wave of conference realignment and expansion it's that football is the straw that stirs the drink.
In the end, I would rather be wanted by someone than feeling like I have to make a move just for the sake of making one or because of other circumstances. The former is the position I see BYU in, meaning the school is in the driver's seat the next time the opportunity presents itself to find the Cougars a new home.
Related College Football Content