A reflection on the BYU football independence announcement

BYU announced this afternoon that they are going independent in football as of mid-2011, while other sports will be played against the West Coast Conference. This is widely seen (and rightly so) as a risky move, since BYU will now have to line up football opponents for every single game in a season, instead of having most of those games against conference members. It also creates additional obstacles for BYU getting into a BCS bowl. There is, to say the least, great skepticism about this move on BYU’s part; most sports columnists, in and out of Utah, consider it risky at best and downright stupid at worst.

And yet….

While thinking about the announcement this afternoon, I remembered a well-known line from the 1983 movie, “WarGames”. Joshua, the self-aware computer, after playing through countless nuclear war scenarios, observes: “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

That, I think, is it. BYU has deliberately chosen not to play the BCS game, at least not on BCS’s terms. In fact, I think that BYU is ready, at least for the near term, to deliberately step off the BCS treadmill, completely give up the idea of repeating its 1984 national championship and instead take a very different approach to football from the rest of the NCAA.

As has been pointed out by others, BYU now has one of the best high-definition broadcast facilities in the  United States, including a complete sports studio and mobile HD truck. BYU has its own satellite channel, which I suspect will soon have an HD parallel channel. BYU is in negotiations with ESPN for scheduling and broadcasting football games, reportedly at a much, much higher return than BYU was getting through the Mountain West Conference. Outside of those games, BYU can — like Texas — now run its own independent sports channel (in high def, no less) and gain revenue, or can sell broadcast rights of specific games to other networks.

All this will increase the income to BYU from football, as well as its exposure. BYU should not have any trouble lining up bowl game invitations each year — BYU fans are well-known for showing up. And in the meantime — and, again, others have already noted this as a consideration — a greater portion of the US and the world at large becomes familiar with BYU and, through it, the LDS Church.

The end game? If the approach remains lucrative and meets exposure goals, and if they truly are giving up (for now) on a national championship, BYU has no real reason to join a conference for football. In fact, with the PAC-10 (soon to be PAC-12) and the WAC both clearly out of contention (though for different reasons), the only other conference that really makes sense for BYU geographically would be the Big 12. They may yet come after BYU with the pending departure of Colorado and Nebraska, but neither side is going to be in a hurry at this point.

Should be interesting to see how this all unfolds.  ..bruce..

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