Almost four years ago, the three biggest names in the Mountain West Conference, Utah, TCU and BYU all went their separate ways (cue the Journey music) to capitalize on their own individual fame and fortune within a college football hierarchy that all but dared institutions to do just that.
Utah, a perennial contender under Kyle Whittingham in the MWC, joined the Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) and will receive an estimated $20 million this year in payouts. TCU has a similar path to the Big-12 (only ten members). They are expected to bring in $26 million this next year. To put that in perspective, the University of Wyoming’s entire athletic budget is about $29.6 million. The money is pouring in, but both have been relegated to relative obscurity within a bigger pond thus far.
Then there is BYU. The Cougars were not extended an invite to the west, nor were they asked to join the league to the east. So they decided to strike out on their own. Not a bad decision monetarily. The university is bringing in approximately $10 million with agreements with ESPN and their own station, BYUtv. This is armfuls of cash better than what the television deal that was in place when they left the league.
However, in those four years, the MWC renegotiated some of their strict (and nonsensical) television contracts and squeezed some significant blood from the small school stone. Previous payments of $1 million have increased into the neighborhood of $3 million for the league’s top teams with the shuttering of The Mtn., the league’s now defunct television station and night games on ESPN. This pays schools some $500,000 per appearance.
So where is all this going?
BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall recently stated that he felt his Cougars and BYU would be perfect fit for the Big-12. It seemed to be an uninvited opinion in the wake of the Big 5’s decision (SEC, ACC, Big-12, Big Ten & Pac-12) to shrink their pool of opponents to remind them of the Cougar’s history.
The Big-12 higher-ups responded that revenues have never been higher and that expansion is not even on the docket. In other words. It’s nice you think so Bronco, but no thanks.
I believe it’s time for the MWC and BYU to both swallow a little pride and join forces once again.
For the Mo’ West, the Cougars bring an elevated television potential which would increase an overall payout for league schools. The league itself is in a position to offer the Y something they seemingly have zero chance at in the new NCAA alignment. A shot at a New Year’s Day bowl.
Both the SEC & ACC in recent weeks have stated that BYU does not qualify as a Big 5 opponent, meaning less scheduling opportunities. The MWC is in the so-called Group of Five (MWC, Sun Belt, American, MAC & Conference USA). The best team of those leagues is guaranteed one of the major bowl payouts in the playoff system moving forward. If you have the highest rating from one of those leagues, you play on New Years. This is something that BYU has not been able to attain during the BCS era or as an Independent, they are not even eligible for the Cotton, Peach, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar or Rose bowls moving forward.
Which is why the time is now to bury the hatchet.
I think the wheels have already started turning. MWC Commissioner, Craig Thompson, has come out saying that the league will also be “re-evaluating” the scheduling of BYU moving forward. I think this is simply sabre-rattling to perhaps get the Cougar administration to consider a reunion. Maybe the teams can help each other out in a new NCAA where you are either wanted, or unwanted. Perhaps an increased payout for schools combined with concessions to BYU getting to broadcast their own product. It’s probably time both entities realized they are stronger together than they are separate. Yes, it will make for some awkward steps along the way, but have you ever seen a reunion photo? Awkward is what it’s all about.