BYU football: Cougars deem going it alone the best option

By Jeff Call

Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 31 2010 11:00 p.m. MDT

PROVO — It's a bold decision with national implications.

If BYU was looking for increased exposure for its football program, this move — with help from cable giant ESPN — has the potential of accomplishing that goal.

Around BYU, Aug. 31, 2010, will be known as Independence Day. That's when the school announced it is going independent in football while joining the West Coast Conference in 12 sports that are offered by that league.

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.

Cougar football coach Bronco Mendenhall said he supports the decision by school administrators and is excited about the future, which is expected to include nationally televised, high-profile football games on ESPN.

But what about BYU's other sports? And what about the WCC?

While the WCC does not compete in football, it has six men's sports (baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, tennis) and seven women's sports (basketball, cross country, golf, rowing, soccer, tennis, volleyball). However, the WCC does not sponsor softball, swimming and diving or track and field — sports that BYU competes in. It's not yet known how those sports will be affected by the move to the WCC.

The eight members (Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland, Saint Mary's, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara) of the WCC have at least one thing in common with BYU — all are private, religiously affiliated institutions.

The WCC schools reside in the Southern and Northern California, Oregon and Washington markets. Beginning in 2011, the league will have a foothold in the Salt Lake City market as well.

ESPN is the exclusive national television home for the WCC in men's basketball. The ESPN family of networks aired 35 WCC events in 2008-09, including 30 men's basketball games, two women's basketball games, one baseball game, one women's soccer match and one women's volleyball match.

The WCC and its member schools have also entered into separate TV agreements with Fox Sports Northwest, Comcast SportsNet Northwest, Comcast SportsNet California, Fox Sports West, and Fox Sports Prime Ticket.

Gonzaga is eager to welcome BYU, said Chris Standiford, senior associate athletic director at Gonzaga. "We're excited. It's something that's going to help make our league stronger."

The league's most high-profile sport, of course, is men's basketball. As the league's flagship program, the Bulldogs have won 380 games since 1992 and are one of only six teams to have gone to each of the past 12 NCAA tournaments. In 2004, Gonzaga finished No. 3 in the final polls.

There could be a new basketball rivalry brewing between Gonzaga and BYU, which has been to four consecutive NCAA tourneys.

"BYU's basketball program has a terrific resume," Standiford said. "They have a program that's very strong. It will be a terrific challenge to Gonzaga to maintain its position in the conference. Our coaches are excited about this opportunity. We've always been a strong proponent of playing a difficult schedule. Having two more games against a league opponent the quality of BYU is just going to add to that."

Another WCC school, Saint Mary's, advanced to the Sweet 16 last spring. Suddenly, with Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU, the WCC becomes a premier mid-major conference in men's basketball.

For now, Standiford said, Gonzaga does not have a consistent rival in the league.

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