As an independent school with no conference ties or affiliation in football, BYU has been able to maximize television revenue and have high flexibility with their schedule.
Always thought of as a stopgap measure on their way to the Big-12 or one of the other so-called “Power-5” conferences after leaving the Mountain West Conference (MWC), independence has turned into a way of life as those invitations never came.
After largely dodging any major drawbacks to being without a conference for nearly a decade, the Cougars now find themselves in a major pit of anxiety as half of their universally praised 2020 schedule has evaporated into thin air.
The most recent hit came on Thursday, July 30, as the South Eastern Conference (SEC) the grand-daddy of college football conferences fell into lockstep with the Big-10 and the Pac-12 as they eliminated non-conference games to begin the collegiate season. These announcements were full of platitudes about protecting the student-athlete and giving the schools the needed flexibility for potential setbacks.
What it really is about is making sure programs get their conference season played when your leagues are dishing out more than $30-million in television revenue to each of your member schools like the Pac-12 does.
In any case, the Cougars have lost games with Utah (despite being less than 50 miles away), Arizona State, Stanford, Minnesota and Michigan State prior to the SEC decision. Now they’ve lost literally half of their schedule with Missouri on the cutting block.
That leaves just Utah State, Houston, Northern Illinois, Boise State, San Diego State and North Alabama on the schedule. Three of those games are with current Mountain West teams.
Rumors are rampant about what BYU can do next to try and salvage more of their season. They could schedule other independent schools such as UMass, Liberty, New Mexico State and Army. The governor of New Mexico has officially asked both the Aggies and the Lobos to not play football this season. As of now they are still in the rotation, but every state is different when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The last remaining independent, Notre Dame, has already brokered a deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) to play a full league slate. This could be a season where the Mountain West and BYU broker some kind of one-year deal to add them in for a season. More hopeful of the Cougar faithful are watching the news wire with the belief that the Big-12 could finally come calling in a time of crisis.
My guess is that the reality will fall somewhere in-between all of these options. I could see games with a couple of those independent schools and maybe the addition of one or two MWC schools as well. But don’t count on any league making such a major decision as permanent expansion in the most indecisive off-season the country has seen since players were wearing leather helmets.
What I do think is that this scenario could light a fire under the Cougar administration again for the future. Whether it be a reunion with the MWC, traveling east for the American Athletic Conference (AAC) or something else unforeseen. Honestly, there could be a typhoon that buries half the country and citizens would just mark it off their 2020 Apocalypse Bingo Card at this point.
2020 continues to be much like the song from The Rolling Stones used by the President in his political rallies much to the consternation of the band members, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
But at some point the independent experiment needs to produce what BYU needs. Stability and relevance.