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Dick Harmon: Time ticking down on BYU, Utah and MWC

Published: Monday, June 27 2011 9:49 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars guard Jimmer Fredette (32) and Brigham Young Cougars guard Jackson Emery (4) hold up the Mountain West championship trophy after beating Wyoming in Provo, Utah, Saturday, March 5, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It is down to a few hours now. BYU and Utah will officially separate from the Mountain West Conference and go on to a new frontier.

It's a divorce that has not gone quietly into the night.

Remember last summer? Breaking news hourly. Tweets galore. Rumors laid upon rumors. Utah State left dangling.

It was a year ago that college expansion rumors ruled the summer. The Pac-10 settled on Utah and Colorado, and BYU decided to try independence in football. It was a crazy summer that ended with the MWC sabotaging the WAC and any plans for BYU to parlay its other sports with that league. The bloodiest part of the summer took place quickly and then it was on to a year of making smiles, shaking hands and getting on with the final season.

Well, this week, the charade is over. Cords will be cut. New letterhead, business cards, logos, stadium symbols and uniform patches will be placed in play. In the next few weeks, Utah will join Pac-12 brothers at the league's media days, the MWC will stage its annual media affair in Las Vegas, and BYU will host its own independent football media day at the new Broadcast Building.

It will be a new July for all.

There's plenty I'll miss about the Mountain West, borne out of the old WAC. Most of it will be faces, other reporters and media types I've known since I started in the business.

I remember going on my first WAC Skywriters Tour in 1976. Back in those days, the media flew around the league for a week in July, stopping at every school for interviews with coaches and players. There were great feasts, legendary card games, clown acts on bus rides and plenty of stories of antics that will be retold forever.

It's there I first met Bob Hammond and Steve Luhm of the Laramie Boomerang, Dennis Latta of the Albuquerque Journal and many of Utah's sports writers like the late John Mooney, Marion Dunn and Hack Miller, along with Lee Benson, Brad Rock, Dick Rosetta and others. In recent years, I've learned to appreciate colleagues in San Diego, Las Vegas and Colorado Springs — all good, hardworking people.

I've appreciated help from MWC staffers like Javan Hedlund and Kim Melcher and many others who work tirelessly around the clock during the year and at the annual basketball tournament in Las Vegas. Ditto for sports information directors, many of whom are now elevated to positions in athletic administrations across the league.

I could go on, but few care or appreciate friendships they don't know or understand.

This parting, however, was due.

Why?

Well, it sounds arrogant just bringing it up. But it is true: Utah and BYU outgrew the Mountain West.

The Cougars and Utes consistently grew their sports and improved while many members of the league did little to increase their competitive advantage. In the crazy BCS formula that teases an automatic qualifying bid for leagues that meet three crazy criteria, the MWC's bottom was like an anchor stuck on the sea floor. AQ status is but a dream and always would be when one of the criteria is average ranking of league teams.

And then came exposure. As much as the MWC tried to shine a light on its members, it failed. It was like donning an invisible shield or stepping into a black hole.

Competitively, in the past 12 years, BYU and Utah have combined for an incredible number of championships in the league. It is almost embarrassing for the rest of the conference.

BYU won 140 tournament and regular-season championships and Utah earned 49. They were followed by UNLV: 38; New Mexico: 35; SDSU: 33; TCU: 30; CSU: 27; and Wyoming and Air Force: two.

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