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Dick Harmon: BYU, Utah Utes proved to be big dogs of MWC with numerous titles

Published: Tuesday, May 17 2011 12:31 a.m. MDT

The Utes celebrate the MWC title in 2009.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News archives

Well, we can probably call it. Even if the Mountain West baseball title is still on the line, the rest of the league's final season as constituted is over and accounted for.

The 12 years of the MWC has provided a ton of competition. If you account for all the hardware in all sports combined, it's a landslide. It isn't even close. It's domination on a gargantuan scale.

BYU has won 140 tournament- and regular-season championships in just over a decade. Utah is second with 49, followed by UNLV 38, New Mexico 35, SDSU 33, TCU 29, CSU 27, Wyoming and Air Force 2.

BYU won more championships last week (three) than Wyoming (2) has in all its MWC existence.

BYU and Utah leave the MWC with a combined 189 of trophies. The rest of the league has 116. The Cougars and Utes have won a combined 61 percent of MWC hardware. BYU, on its own, has accounted for a whopping 45 percent of league trophies.

BYU has nearly half? That's about so, according to the record.

Will these two athletic programs be missed?

Bueller? Bueller?

The silence will be deafening.

BYU is on to independence and the Utes are headed for a coveted spot in the expanded Pac-12. Utah will have the tougher road to earn team championships. In fact, it will be extremely difficult in sports other than football where the Utes, who are favored to win the Southern Division, will be immediately competitive.

Pac-12 competition from sports like tennis, track and field and soccer is blue-blood elite. Utah won only two MWC trophies this year (women's basketball and women's tennis) and only one in 2010 (women's tennis).

Enhanced recruiting and improved future facilities could elevate Utah's chances in other sports, but it won't be as easy as MWC fodder faced over the past 12 years.

It will be easier for BYU's success to continue in the West Coast Conference with weaker competition and smaller schools. BYU's future success should to be measured more accurately by post-season competition in basketball and other sports.

These MWC trophy figures do not account for Utah's outstanding women's gymnastics team, which is the only program in the country to qualify for nationals every year since the school took up the sport in 1976 or BYU's men's volleyball program that won national titles in 1999, 2001 and 2004.

BYU's dominance in the MWC lies primarily on the back of its cross country and track and field teams. Each year, the Cougars dominate the fall sport of cross country with women's national championships in 1999, 2001 and 2002 and bury the competition in indoor and outdoor track and field.

Well, those don't count, some argue. They're just minor sports nobody cares about, they say. I dare you to tell an athlete or coach that their work doesn't matter.

Sweat is sweat, scholarships are scholarships, even if the draw isn't as great as the hallowed cash cow - football. Stanford is considered one of the nation's best athletic programs not because of football, but it's overall depth and reach.

When you excel in all aspects of your athletic programs, it shows depth, consistency, tradition, coaching, recruiting, participation, ability to tackle Title IX issues successfully and popularity of drawing walk-ons who contribute without grants in aid.

It is far easier to be a one-trick pony in college athletics and pour energy and resources into a major sport like football or basketball while others sports are left to kick tin cans in the parking lot. It's another story to produce champions.

In a sense, overall stability and competitiveness of all university-level sports programs is a litmus test for athletic accountability under amateur restrictions and guidelines by universities under the NCAA.

If you throw in the challenge of maintaining high academics, university sports are more than bowl-bound muscle farms.

Minor sports? They are NCAA- and MWC-sponsored competitions that draw thousands of scholarship athletes in the league's athletic programs. They do count. They are registered and tallied in the annual Director's Cup standings, the NCAA's way of ranking success of the nation's athletic programs.

This sports season BYU won 10 trophies, four in regular season championships including men's and women's basketball, men's tennis and softball. The Cougars annexed tournament titles in six sports (women's soccer, men's and women's indoor track and field, men's tennis and men's and women's outdoor track).

And what about the milk-giving cow, football?

The most impressive MWC feat in football has been TCU, which in a relatively short time since membership in 2005, has won three league titles and made two BCS appearances.

BYU and Utah leave the MWC tied with four football titles each. BYU and Utah shared the championship in 1999 with CSU before BYU won in 2001, 2006 and 2007. Utah won its three other titles in 2004, 2005 and 2008 with BCS victories over Pittsburgh and Alabama four years apart.

Yes, the MWC pedigree is about to change. Utah and BYU will be no longer be the kindling in this league after the end of June. TCU will linger for another season and be gone.

In a sense, the MWC will no longer be anything like its reputation has made it the past dozen years. UNLV, New Mexico and SDSU will dominate in basketball and Boise State will take over football, while the other sports will cannibalize each other.

An entirely different era will begin.

Who will be the dog with the loudest bark?

Who knows.

As for now, somebody did let the big dogs out.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

Twitter: Harmonwrites

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