Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — Along the way, the road was filled with bumps and potholes and featured plenty of twists, turns, dead ends and detours.
But in the end, BYU reached its planned destination, at least for now — football independence.
The school announced Tuesday it is leaving the Mountain West Conference, which BYU helped form in 1999, to compete as an independent in football. Meanwhile, the Cougars will join the West Coast Conference in 12 other sports — such as men's basketball — offered by that league, for the 2011-12 season. The move is effective June 30, 2011.
Athletic director Tom Holmoe was not available for comment, but a news conference is scheduled for today at noon at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
BYU had until today to notify the MWC if it was leaving after the 2010-11 season.
The announcement came about two weeks later than expected, and it involves the WCC, not the Western Athletic Conference as originally planned. Two weeks ago, BYU was set to bolt the MWC and join the WAC in its other sports, but that plan was thwarted when the MWC hastily invited WAC members Nevada and Fresno State to join the league.
Since then, BYU officials have been working feverishly, exploring options to enhance the future of its athletic department.
BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall addressed the big news after his team's practice Tuesday, just days before the season-opener against Washington.
"I'm supportive of (the decision to go independent) and I'm anxious to coach the team in a new situation," he said. "I don't consider myself a real student of all the national landscape. The No. 1 thing that, to me, on a broader perspective other than football, is exposure. And I love the idea of being more visible and I don't know what all of those details are I'm sure they'll be addressed (today) but that part to me is significant."
As an independent, BYU will have the opportunity to set up a 12-game schedule every season. Officially, the Cougars are scheduled to play at Oregon State and at Texas and host Utah State in 2011. It is expected that BYU will continue to play archrival Utah, which will begin its first season in the Pac-12 next year.
Before its deal with the WAC disintegrated, BYU had devised a mock independent schedule that also included WAC schools Hawaii, Nevada, Fresno State, New Mexico State and San Jose State. The Cougars could still play Hawaii, New Mexico State and San Jose State in 2011.
"The only thing I've been told so far," Mendenhall said, "is there will be some elements of existing WAC partners, which would be a portion of the contract, but then a national schedule, basically East Coast to West Coast, and trying to get as many quality opponents from as many parts of the country as we can get to continue to promote our program and generate excitement for the teams we're playing, which will be a real positive thing."
As part of the plan, BYU has formed a partnership with ESPN, which would televise a number of games, particularly high-profile contests.
Starting in 2012, the Cougars are already scheduled to face Boise State, which joined the MWC over the summer, in a four-game series though 2015.
Other possible future opponents include the other three independent teams in college football — Army, Navy and Notre Dame.
Mendenhall said he's looking forward to scheduling opponents from all over the country.
"I'd love a long-term series with Notre Dame. I think that would be a great one. That's what's fun now, possibly the idea of who you'd like to play and develop some natural rivalries and learn more about different parts of the country and add more to the college experience for these kids. The chance to have choices like that, I'm excited about."
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