As Wednesday's deadline approaches for BYU to decide whether or not it will declare its independence in football, the fate of the Cougars' men's basketball program also remains in limbo.
The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that BYU is still doggedly determined to pursue football independence, which would likely mean the basketball program is headed for either the WAC or the WCC. The only way BYU basketball would remain a member of the Mountain West would be if the conference offered an 11th-hour sweetheart deal to take the Cougars' non-football sports.
Although football and TV revenue will undoubtedly be the two biggest factors in BYU's ultimate decision, this post will attack the issue from a totally different perspective. Here's a look at the best possible options for the Cougars for the longterm health of the basketball program:
1. Remaining in the Mountain West
BYU football has valid reasons to declare its independence, but its basketball team is far better off staying in the Mountain West than going elsewhere. Unless either the Pac-10 or Big 12 have a chance of heart and invite the Cougars, no other conference can offer them the combination of exposure and competitive and geographic viability that the Mountain West does.
The Mountain West put four teams in the NCAA tournament last season, a feat that it could easily duplicate again next season and in years to come. In addition to BYU, San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV are all solid, well-coached programs and the imminent arrival of Nevada (and perhaps Utah State) will only strengthen the conference.
2. Forming a new conference
It doesn't appear as though there's enough momentum to make this happen, but there are enough dissatisfied non-BCS programs out there not to completely rule this option out. The key would be forming a conference that's strong enough in football to negotiate a lucrative TV deal yet doesn't completely neglect geography, basketball or the other sports.
Any new conference for BYU would likely have to include TCU and Memphis, the former of which brings football credibility and the latter ensures a flagship basketball school. From there it would be a matter of finding which other Conference USA, Mountain West and WAC schools would be amenable to a change and would bring something of value to the table.
3. Joining the WCC
If BYU came to the WCC, at the very least it would be guaranteed a handful of games that would annually generate national exposure. BYU-Gonzaga? Yes, please. BYU-Saint Mary's? OK. Heck, even Loyola Marymount and Portland are both currently programs on the rise could be aided by the addition of the Cougars to the league.
Of course, the obvious drawback would be the RPI hit the Cougars would suffer from facing the WCC's bottom feeders twice a year. Furthermore, while the WCC's top three programs are strong, it's still a small step down overall from the Mountain West trio of UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State.
4. Joining the WAC
The WAC already would have been a step down in competition and prestige from the Mountain West, but the unexpected departure of Nevada and Fresno State weakens the conference even further. Aside from Utah State, which could easily be persuaded to join BYU in the Mountain West, there's not another program in the league that would provide a regular RPI boost for the Cougars.
New Mexico State has been decent in spurts, but the Aggies have typically done it with transfers and non-qualifiers. Maybe Hawaii can climb back toward respectability again if it adds more foreign talent. Aside from that, the only way the WAC would have other teams that would be assets to BYU would be if it poaches schools like UTEP and Houston from Conference USA.