BYU going independent in football

As BYU's deadline approached and many speculated it could not pull off a move to be independent in football, the Cougars were keeping hope alive while coming up with a way to revive the dreams that crashed two weeks ago.

Turns out the Cougars' statements of reviewing and evaluating all options were accurate, as shown by the school's surprise announcement Tuesday: BYU is going independent in football and joining the West Coast Conference in all other sports, leaving the Mountain West Conference, the league BYU helped create 11 years ago.

BYU announced the move in a brief statement Tuesday, saying it had resigned from the Mountain West, effective June 30, 2011. The school said no other details would come before a news conference Wednesday afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium, home of the soon-to-be independent Cougars football team.

The announcement ended nearly two weeks of speculation since BYU's original plan to go independent surfaced, then unraveled within hours when the Mountain West Conference made a protective move and invited Nevada and Fresno State to leave the WAC for the MWC.

BYU had an agreement worked out with the WAC to join in all sports except football, which would play as a Bowl Subdivision independent. The Mountain West's catch of Nevada and Fresno State foiled the plan and left BYU with little time to come up with something else before Sept. 1, the deadline to notify the Mountain West of any plans to leave before the 2011 school year.

WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich began talks with BYU after the WAC plan fell through and was able to put together the deal in just a couple of weeks.

The WCC had looked into possible expansion in the past year but decided to stick with eight teams. However, the chance to get a school the caliber of BYU was too good to pass up. The conference has just started talks to negotiate a new television deal and the new addition should only make any deal more lucrative.

With perennial power Gonzaga, an emerging program at Saint Mary's that won two games in the NCAA tournament last year and programs such as Portland and San Diego that have had success in recent years, the WCC is in position to be a regular multiple-bid league for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. BYU has been to 25 NCAA tournaments, including the past four seasons.

Shortly after the BYU and WCC releases, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson released his own, saying the league would continue to explore options for the future. It did not mention BYU by name or the Cougars' decision to leave.

Boise State joins the Mountain West next year, when Utah leaves for the Pac-10, and now BYU departs as one of just four independent teams in the NCAA's Bowl Subdivision. The only other football teams without conferences are Notre Dame, Army and Navy.

BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been looking into football independence as a way to increase the school's exposure through its own network — BYU-TV — and others outside The Mtn.

By going independent, the Cougars will have a challenge filling out future football schedules without the eight guaranteed Mountain West games. The agreement with the WAC included a provision for playing several league teams each year while leaving BYU free to fill the rest of the dates with any other schools.

BYU already has some future opponents in place for what would have been non-conference games in the coming years, but will still have plenty of work to round out the rest of the schedule.

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