Brigham Young’s football program had a ton of success in the Mountain West Conference in recent years, posting a 39-9 record against conference opposition under current coach Bronco Mendenhall. But the landscape of college football is changing, and in a key component of those shifting sands, BYU last year decided to leave the Mountain West.
This was not a unique decision – BYU’s two top competitors for Mountain West supremacy, Utah and TCU, also flew the coop. But the latter two did it to move up to automatic-qualifier BCS conferences: Utah to the now-Pac-12, TCU to the Big East. If either program wins their conference now, they’re guaranteed a BCS game, security the Mountain West couldn’t provide. BYU, though, went a different direction – they decided to go independent. They still won’t have that BCS conference security. They’re joined by just three other major college football independents – Army, Navy, and Notre Dame. So why’d they do it? According to Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune, the answer gets to the fundamental roots of BYU’s existence as a university:
Bronco said the biggest reason for BYU going independent in football is “exposure for the LDS Church.”
Note: The LDS Church is the church that owns and operates BYU, but you probably already knew that.
So, does BYU football want to be for the LDS Church what Notre Dame football is for Catholicism? If not, they’re doing a good job disguising it. The BYU-Notre Dame comparison has been made before (such as this story, which features the world’s most boring headline), and considering they’re both major college football programs with no conference affiliation but a extremely prominent religious affiliation, those comparisons will continue.
And BYU will get more national exposure – if not immediately by way of the media, then at least through the fans going to their away games. No longer must the vast majority of those games take place in the Mountain West region – BYU will play all over the country. A six-game series with – you guessed it – Notre Dame is upcoming). And the ESPN deal mentioned in the linked story highlights another potential advantage of independence (not to mention an important factor in the amount of “exposure” one is able to generate) – money.
But the most important thing BYU can do to create the kind of exposure they’re seeking for the Church: win. Notre Dame football isn’t so well-known because it’s a Catholic school – it’s because it’s a Catholic school that won all the time. BYU is capable – from 2006-09, they won 10 or more games and finished in the top 25 every year. Last year the Cougars slipped to 7-6, but we believe they’ll rebound. They’d better. BYU put a lot of pressure on itself with the move to independence, and even more by fully embracing a role as prominent ambassadors for the Church. BYU’s a fine program with a devoted following, but the Notre Dame model’s a tough one to replicate.
Photo via Mormon Matters