Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why BYU's Independence Makes Sense

(Latest Simulated BCS Standings)

By John Cownover

Guest Column

I have read some columns that said that essentially said it is embarrassing that "BYU is leaving the MWC for the WCC" … which is really only a half-truth (if even that). Does it really matter what athletic conference you are in for anything besides football? The short answer is no!

Quick question: What's Butler's conference? Maybe you know, but I don't … and they were a half-court prayer away from beating mighty Duke in the title game. My point is that conferences don't matter in "Olympic" sports (including basketball).

Not only are the WCC schools a better academic and cultural fit for BYU, consider the resulting exchange in markets. BYU goes from the likes of Laramie, Albuquerque and Colorado Springs to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland. BYU loses the Fort Worth market, but keeps San Diego; the weak sister is either Provo/Salt Lake or Spokane … big step up from the sad sack MWC markets.

In my opinion, the basketball competition in the WCC is bit of an upgrade (but certainly not a huge one) from the MWC. Other than basketball and football, nobody (besides coaches, athletes and their families) care about the rest of the sports. Case in point, did you know that BYU won the national championship in men's volleyball in 1999, 2001 and 2004? And that they also and a national title in rugby in 2009? Neither did I until I looked it up last week.

Obviously ESPN extends BYU's exposure exponentially, but does football being broadcast on BYUtv really make a difference? As a BYU alumnus and an active Mormon, the answer is unequivocally yes. Admittedly, very few non-LDS people even know BYUtv exists, much less watch it. But many members are BYU alumni, former students, have children attending BYU or are just fans … those folks would love an convenient location to watch BYU football.

Anecdotally, I have DirecTV and get 120 channels or so, but I don't subscribe to the package that allows me to get The Mtn. Although I am an alumnus, I'm not enough of a fanatic to pay for The Mtn just so I can watch BYU play Wyoming … or New Mexico … or Air Force in football. But I do get BYUtv and, assuming it's convenient, I will watch most every game they play next year.

BYU detractors will point to the inarguable fact that Boise State, Utah and TCU have all been better than BYU in football for 10 years or so. Having said that, BYU has been a relevant football school for approaching 40 years. I would be interested to know how many times over the past 40 years BYU has finished the season ranked in the top 25. My guess is that it's very close to the number of times that TCU, Utah an Boise State have combined finishes in the top 25 over the same time frame.

Plus, BYU has a national championship in football during that period (which trumps all BCS bowl appearances, by the way). I know it was 25 years ago … and counting. But, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still 6-time Super Bowl champions even though four of those titles came five years or more before BYU won a national title.

Please do not think I am suggesting BYU is on par with Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Texas, etc. (or the Pittsburgh Steelers for that matter). They are more like UCLA (in football), Washington, Arkansas, Purdue, etc. (or maybe the Chargers in the NFL … except BYU has won a title). Certainly not blue bloods, but not historical slouches either.

And about BYU getting the Notre Dame BCS exception. Obviously they won't get the top 8 inclusion. But I think it's entirely possible they get a top 6 exception and fully expect they will get a top 4 exception. More that anything this will prevent the BCS to from committing to the Mountain West.

For argument sake, let's assume BYU is treated exactly like Notre Dame (even though we know that won't happen). How many times in 10 years will BYU finish in the BCS top 8? At most, two. If I'm the BCS I'd take my chances with the possibility of giving BYU an invite once every four or five years as opposed to being locked into Boise State, TCU or heaven forbid, Wyoming or New Mexico, every single year.

Now to Texas and the Big 12/Pac-10. I live in SEC country and all the talk is "How can Texas (and OU/A&M) justify getting more money that the rest of the schools? Why do those other schools let them get away with it?"

We can sit around reading Mother Goose stories pretending it's not true, but the whole realignment chaos was/is controlled by four factors. We need to admit that #1 is light years ahead of #2, which is light years ahead of #3, which is virtually interchangeable with #4. The factors are 1) TV markets, 2) football relevance, 3) basketball relevance and 4) academics.

With that as a backdrop, most schools within a given conference are in the top 2 or 3 in one of the above factors. Likewise, most schools are not in the top 2 or 3 in ALL of the factors. Take the SEC, for instance … Alabama is a football behemoth and delivers huge TV numbers (because they are a national brand). Now, do they even have their own basketball arena or do they just share one with the local high school? … or with Auburn?

Academically, they are really not all that much different from the rest of the SEC, except Vanderbilt. Vandy, of course, is dreadful in football, but they are okay in basketball, deliver a very nice local market and are an academic giant. From my perspective, the only real freeloaders in the SEC are Mississippi and Mississippi State.

This is virtually identical for all BCS conferences … except the ten-school Big 12. We'll do TV last because that's the most interesting and dramatic.

Historically best football programs: Oklahoma, then Texas is a very close second; Texas A&M is a distant third; then et al.

Historically best basketball programs: Kansas by a mile, then OU, then Texas; Baylor is good now, but not too long ago Dave Bliss was covering up an on-team homicide … and Texas Tech has only moderate interest because of the ghost of Bobby Knight.

Best academic institution: Texas, and it's not real close. A&M is second and I don't have a clue after that.

If you're scoring at home, Texas Oklahoma and A&M are routinely 1, 2 or 3 so far … now to TV. A colleague of mine recently sent me the most current population statistics for all U.S. DMAs (that's Designated Market Areas, which is basically TV markets). If you look at the markets that University of Texas football dominates (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin … not to mention all the ancillary markets like Midland/Odessa and Corpus Christi), the four major markets combined (which is what Texas football delivers) are larger than any DMA in the country except New York.

Now tell me, why does Texas get the majority of the money? Because they do the majority of the work … in the classroom, on the basketball court, on the football field and where it matters most … on TV!

TV is also why the Mountain West, even with BYU, Utah and Boise State, had zero chance of ever getting into the BCS unless they add the Cotton Bowl to the existing rotation (which I think is likely to happen). I know the arguments for dropping the Big East and adding the Mountain West, but do you really think the networks would be okay with dropping the northeast markets for the MWC markets?

Not a chance!


Anonymous said...

Best academic institution: Texas, and it's not real close. A&M is second

In the latest USN&WR rankings, texas is #13 for public universities. A&M is #22. In the past decade both schools have been effectively tied in the USN&WR rankings more often than not, and in the late 90's A&M was on top.

To say that it's "not real close" is a farce.

Anonymous said...

Historically best basketball programs: Kansas by a mile, then OU, then Texas; Baylor is good now, but not too long ago Dave Bliss was covering up an on-team homicide … and Texas Tech has only moderate interest because of the ghost of Bobby Knight.

A&M has five straight years of NCAA tournament appearances, and five straight years with at least one win in the tournament.

That's tied for the longest such streak in the nation. It's considerably more consistent recent success than either texas tech or baylor, who only won their first NCAA tournament game in DECADES this past year, and still hasn't beaten a non-double-digit seed in the tournament.

The icing on the cake? Twice those A&M first round wins were over BYU.

Anonymous said...

In typical BYU "Quest for perfection" arrogance you vastly overestimate BYU's future. BYU has burned their bridge to the BCS.

Since their national championship 25 years ago, BYU has finished the season ranked in the top six only once (1996). This is not something that will happen once every five years going forward. Once in the next 25 years seems possible but unlikely. If they have to make the top 4, BYU may never play in a BCS game.

Why? Going independent will certainly hurt BYU's recruiting. Why would anyone but the most diehard fan pick an independent school which has a ridiculous honor code but no real path to the BCS? Also, don't forget that your team is 1-4 so far this year. Forget about going to a bowl. It seems very likely that BYU will extend their mediocrity far into the future, following in the footsteps of independent Notre Dame.

I suggest that you continue to bask in the 25 year old national championship and past "relevance," because BYU's present and future are extremely bleak.

Anonymous said...

I think everybody is missing the point on BYUtv. There is no new revenue to be gained. The network already exists and is getting their cut from the satellite/cable providers. If they try to get a bigger rate because they have BYU football, the providers will just move them to some obscure sports package (or drop them) for a net loss to the network. If the rate stays the same, is the LDS/network going to give some of the money to the school? If so, just cut a check and forget about being independent. No, this is all about pride (we're better than everybody else and deserve to be in the spotlight) and will be shown to be a monumental blunder in time. Taking a down program and removing them from relevance won't bring the recruits in, now will it? Also, not only will they get no ND type deal with the BCS, I'll be surprised if they aren't completely ignored. No guarantees, period! (Think about it...what's in it for the BCS?)Earn your way in if you can.