Doug Robinson: Spare us all the 'research school' lines

Published: Wednesday, June 30 2010 12:17 a.m. MDT

OK, can we cut the crapola already?

Can we dispense with the nonsense of blaming BYU's exclusion from the Pac-10 on the school's perceived shortcomings as a "research institution."

Pa-leeeze.

Research? What, are they going to do, host a lab-rat race? A find-that-genome contest? A league-wide all-nighter over the Bunsen burner? First one to cold fusion wins!

This isn't about "research institutions," although that seems to be one of the favorite explanations for leaving BYU out in the cold. The recent expansion of the Pac-10 to include Utah and Colorado was not prompted by a sudden desire to add "research institutions" and academics to the league. It was prompted by TV contracts and football. The rest of it — the academics, the research, other sports — is fluff.

Money is the only thing that matters to universities these days, and it's certainly the only thing that matters in college football. If that weren't the case, we'd have a playoff system.

Utah is a great addition to the league, but BYU deserved equal treatment, especially if such matters were based purely on performance on the field. From BYU's perspective, there is no good way to spin this. This is the worst news since Sunday games. Their archrival got a big promotion and, with it, a huge increase in pay and blue-chip recruit signings.

The Cougars have to be wondering what just happened. They have fielded the best football program in the Mountain West for years. They have been a Top 20 team since the late '70s. They have won 23 conference championships and made 28 bowl games. They have produced a Heisman winner and a national championship.

And that's just football. Unlike most athletic programs in the Title IX era, the Cougars have not focused on football and basketball to the exclusion of the so-called minor sports, with rare exceptions (wrestling). They have quality programs across the board — swimming, track, volleyball, soccer, cross country, baseball.

They also have among the best athletic facilities in the country. Their football stadium has 20,000 seats more than Utah's. They have a world-class track and field stadium. Utah doesn't have a track or a men's track team, and now they're about to join a league that boasts some of the country's top track programs.

Even from a monetary consideration, the Cougars would have been an asset to the Pac-10. They could have brought TV sets to the league — think: 14 million Mormons.

But it came down to this: The league needed two more teams to create two divisions and a conference championship game (read: more TV money). They took Utah, with its Salt Lake TV market, and Colorado, with its Denver TV market, and BYU was left out.

The Cougars came with what most would consider baggage: They won't play on Sunday, which would create headaches for the Pac-10 TV contract, and their honor code and conservative living don't fit in with the liberal Pac-10 crowd. Otherwise, BYU should be as attractive as Notre Dame, another religious school that is repeatedly courted by BCS conferences.

The Utes happened to be in the right place in the right time, and good for them. But the Cougars should be running off to the big time with them.

Fate or luck or whatever you want to call it lent the Utes a hand. They were an enigma on the football field for decades; they couldn't win a conference title and rarely won more than six or seven games a year. Then along came Urban Meyer a few years ago and the program took off, just in time, as it turned out, to attract the attention of the Pac-10 when the league went looking for more TV sets.

The Utes caught another break when six teams from the Big 12 Conference turned down the Pac-10 offer to join the league, and they caught another break because their top rival for the invitation was considered to have too much baggage.

So there it is: Utah will be playing for Rose Bowl or the BCS national title game, while BYU will be playing for the Las Vegas Bowl, and there's nothing fair about it.

e-mail: drob@desnews.com

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