After weeks of speculation, Brigham Young is prepared to leave the Mountain West Conference and declare itself an independent in football beginning in 2011. The Cougars will join the Western Athletic Conference in all other sports, an arrangement much like the one Notre Dame has with the Big East.
The move was first reported on the Colorado State football Twitter page: "BYU to go independent in football in 2011. Cougars will join the WAC for all other sports. Press conference scheduled for Thursday."
BYU has been considering its options for months, but the move is likely being made now because the Mountain West does not have an exit penalty as long as a school gives notice by Sept. 1 of the year before it wants to leave.
BYU no doubt feels secure in making such a move because the school has what Texas and many other schools now covet: A state-of-the-art worldwide TV network that is on the basic packages of Dish Network, DirecTV and some 200 cable companies.
On July 30, Dick Harmon of the Deseret News wrote that BYU-TV's high-definition studio "will rival anything the networks have in media centers in Los Angeles and New York."
BYU-TV's facilities extend beyond the studio. It also has a high-definition TV truck for production and broadcast of sporting events.
"This truck is the most up-to-date found anywhere in the western United States and a tool ESPN would love to rent for events centered in the West," Harmon wrote.
Although BYU-TV has been a non-commercial, non-profit operation that accepted only sponsorships and contributions, that is likely to change. Ad Systems Communications, in a release dated Aug. 12, announced it had secured the 2010-11 ad insertion contracts from BYU Athletics Cable Television. That sent reporters, including Harmon, scrambling.
The Idaho Statesman contacted WAC commissioner Karl Benson late Tuesday: "Asked whether the league had moved up its expansion timeline and if the league was negotiating with BYU to join as a non-football member, Benson replied via text message: 'No comment.' "
BYU has long complained about The Mtn., the Mountain West's TV network, which is available nationwide, but not on all basic cable and satellite packages. For example, much of North San Diego County has been unable to get the network.
BYU was never a player in Pacific 10 expansion talks, in part because of the school's religious linkage to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and refusal of its athletic teams to play on Sundays.
The departure of BYU is a crushing blow to the Mountain West, which is losing a bargaining chip in the next round of talks involving membership to the lucrative Bowl Championship Series. The league — even with the upcoming loss of Utah to the Pac-10 — felt it had strengthened its case by adding Boise State from the WAC.
It's unclear if BYU would be be given qualifying status to the BCS as an independent. There might be incentive to include the Cougars because Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has been a critic of the BCS, at one point calling it "un-American." Including BYU would mean the Utes and Cougars would be playing in the BCS in 2011, likely softening Hatch's hard-line stance.
The move returns BYU to its roots. The school was a founding member of WAC in 1962 and left in 1999 to join the Mountain West.