Guest Commentary: Should BYU football go for conference championships or independence?

By Justin Giles

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15 2013 11:58 a.m. MDT

BYU walks off the field after Brigham Young University is defeated by TCU 32-7 as they play MWC football in Forth Worth, Texas, Oct. 16, 2008. Photo by Tom Smart

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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Brigham Young University is now entering its third year as a football independent after cutting ties with the Mountain West Conference in 2011. After a couple of years as a football independent, some in the media still think BYU does not have much to play for at the end of the year because it does not belong in a conference and can't compete for a conference championship. I feel those people are missing the point and should take a look from the fans' point of view.

When BYU was playing in the MWC, fans knew from the start that there were only a couple of competitive and exciting games during the season. For BYU fans, these games were usually against a top team or two during the non-conference part of the schedule with teams such as Oklahoma and Florida State.

When conference play started, there were only a couple of big games left — with the University of Utah and Texas Christian University. The talent level of these three teams compared to the rest of the league (Wyoming, New Mexico, etc.,) was clearly different. When these three teams left the MWC for greener pastures, I will never forget a statistic that I saw showing the number of titles each program won during its years in the MWC. The chart is for all sports.

Online Graphing

In just 12 years, BYU, Utah and TCU won 10 of 12 conference football championships, or 83 percent. For all sports, BYU and Utah combined to win 189 MWC titles, which represented 61 percent of the total MWC championships. "As we can see, BYU, and Utah were head and shoulders above the rest of the league.

Every fan’s dream is to see his or her team play for the national championship. No disrespect to the MWC, but teams from that league have about the same shot at making the championship game as I have at making a hole in one in golf (probably never going to happen). Fans want to see their teams play against the best. The MWC limited the opportunity for BYU and Utah to play against the best. If you do not play the best, you cannot beat the best.

Looking back over the last couple of years of BYU football, fans usually talk about the big games against Oklahoma, Florida State and Notre Dame. Nobody cares to talk about the MWC games, and for good reason. Fans want to see how their team stacks up against the best teams in the nation while playing on a national stage.

When BYU went independent, it gave its fans that opportunity. Look at some of the teams BYU has lined up on the schedule this year, such as Wisconsin, Texas and Notre Dame. Looking toward the future, BYU has already agreed to games with USC, West Virginia, Arizona and possibly Stanford. If BYU had stayed in the MWC, it would not be facing some of these high-profile teams.

First, staying in the MWC would have limited the amount of games BYU could schedule with only four non-conference games. Second, high-profile teams want to play on a national stage, and because BYU has a contract with ESPN, it is able to use that to its advantage by setting up big games.

So do fans really care about winning a conference championship and going to the Las Vegas Bowl for the 10th straight time, or do they care about beating a top three team in the nation like BYU did against Oklahoma in 2010?

Let’s be honest, winning the MWC title didn’t do much for any of the football teams in the MWC. Just look at what BYU has done over the years. After winning the conference title, it played in the Las Vegas Bowl. Occasionally, even when it came in second place, it still went to the Las Vegas Bowl. It was obvious that staying in the MWC would not help BYU as much as joining another conference as the Utes (PAC 12) and TCU ( Big 12) did, or going independent.

This was one of the reasons why BYU made the move to football independence. It didn’t hurt that the Cougars signed an eight-year deal with ESPN, getting that kind of national exposure. BYU now has the freedom and flexibility to schedule who it wants and for the most part when it wants. Instead of having 3-4 non-conference games like it had during its conference years, BYU now has the opportunity to play 12-13 non-conference games.

The bottom line is that fans want to see their teams play against the best teams. Yes, it would be nice to play weaker teams during the season so that it could go undefeated in hopes of playing against a high quality team in a BCS bowl game. However, that doesn’t always work out. Just look at what happened to Boise State and TCU a couple of years ago. Both teams were undefeated and looking to play against the “big boys” in a BCS bowl game. Unfortunately, they were never given the chance as both were left to play against each other in the Fiesta Bowl.

One of the great things BYU has going for itself is that it doesn't have to worry if the system will give it a chance to play against the big boys. It already will be playing BCS-type games during the season.

Look at last year when BYU played Notre Dame. Notre Dame went on to play in the national championship. How many teams could say that they faced one of the best teams in all of college football that year? BYU was one of just 13.

Even though BYU is not playing for conference championships every year, it is now playing against the top competition on a national stage week in and week out. So tell me again why playing for a conference championship is such a big deal?

Justin Giles graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor's of arts degree in communications, with an emphasis in journalism and sports communication. EMAIL: justingiles22@gmail.com

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