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Jeff Eisenberg

Would BYU really follow Utah out of the Mountain West?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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How naive of us to think that we'd make it through the rest of the summer without any more conference expansion rumors to sift through.

That idea disintegrated on Tuesday night when numerous credible reports surfaced suggesting that Utah's recent move to the Pac-10 has caused BYU to also consider leaving the Mountain West. In a similar arrangement to what Notre Dame has with the Big East, the Cougars could become an independent in football and rejoin the WAC in every other sport.

We've learned the hard way the past few months that proposed realignment ideas often don't come to fruition, but the ramifications of BYU leaving the Mountain West could be drastic if this is true.

Like Texas and the Big 12, BYU is the centerpiece of the Mountain West because of its large fan base, coveted TV market and powerful football program. And again like Texas and the Big 12, the Mountain West would have little reason to exist in its current form if the Cougars follow in-state rival Utah out the door.

The real question to consider here is not whether BYU is exploring leaving the Mountain West but whether it truly makes sense for the Cougars to leave. Texas, of course, made similar threats a few months ago, but we all wonder in retrospect if the Longhorns were ever serious about joining the Pac-10 or if it was all a smokescreen to try to sweeten their Big 12 TV deal.

In BYU's case, it's probably safe to assume school officials will do whatever they think helps them land a spot in a BCS conference the fastest.

There's no way that returning to the weaker, geographically untenable WAC would make sense for BYU if the Mountain West still has a realistic chance of receiving an automatic BCS bid. The extra $20 million a year in TV revenue spread among conference teams would make it worth it for the Cougars to stay, as would the chance to play in BCS bowl games, raise their profile as a football school and showcase themselves to bigger conferences.

If the Mountain West isn't going to get a BCS bid, then BYU must decide whether its best path to a BCS conference would be maintaining the status quo or playing as an independent. The Cougars probably aren't going to get the sweetheart deal Notre Dame has as an independent, but they could play more marquee games, ideally putting the best on ESPN or Fox Sports Net and broadcasting the rest on a soon-to-be-launched BYU network.

Maybe the biggest problem for BYU is that none of the six current BCS conferences seem interested in adding the Cougars at this point.

The Pac-10 will already have a foothold with Utah in the Salt Lake City market and certain schools aren't eager to add a religious institution. The Big 12 has repeatedly said it's comfortable at 10 members for the time being once Colorado and Nebraska leave. And none of the other four major conferences are remotely geographically suitable.

Ultimately, it seems like the wise thing for BYU to do would be to remain patient, stay in the Mountain West and hope to draw interest from the Big 12 once the next wave of expansion inevitably takes place.

Venturing out as a football independent seems like a knee-jerk reaction to Utah joining the Pac-10. It doesn't seem like it's going to get the Cougars any closer to their goal of joining a BCS conference.

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