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BYU football: Cougars deem going it alone the best option

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 1 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

BYU declared its independence in football and will join the West Coast Conference in 12 other sports. (Associated Press) BYU declared its independence in football and will join the West Coast Conference in 12 other sports. (Associated Press)

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.

Gonzaga, a national power in basketball, will have to contend against BYU for West Coast Conference supremacy in 2011. (Associated Press) Gonzaga, a national power in basketball, will have to contend against BYU for West Coast Conference supremacy in 2011. (Associated Press)

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.

Brigham Young University coach Bronco Mendenhall runs  practice in Provo, Utah, Friday, Aug. 20, 2010. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young University coach Bronco Mendenhall runs practice in Provo, Utah, Friday, Aug. 20, 2010. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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."

 (Rajah Bose, Associated Press) (Rajah Bose, Associated Press)

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.

"It depends on the sport a little bit. The WCC has a terrific depth of teams in a variety of sports. Certainly, it tends to be a little bit cyclical in terms of who's competing well at a given time. We don't have a geographic rival necessarily. I wouldn't even say we have a traditional rival. Other people would disagree with me, but in the recent context, with men's basketball, there's been a lot of spirit with Saint Mary's. Any time you have two programs competing for the same championship, there's a natural rivalry that will develop."

Standiford oversees the baseball program at Gonzaga. He said the WCC "is a very competitive conference" in that sport. "We've had terrific years with multiple entries into the NCAA (tournament). We expect that BYU is only going to make that better. It will mean more competitive baseball and more opportunities to put more teams forward for a national championship."

There's a feeling of excitement around the Gonzaga athletic department, Standiford said.

"Certainly, our coaches and our staff are very excited. It represents a greater challenge. We all realize it means we're going to have to work a little harder to put ourselves in a position to win championships. We all embrace that challenge and look forward to it. Certainly in the context of the sports I work with most closely, I've spoken to those coaches and they all see it as making our conference better. Particularly in this day and age where you're dealing with scheduling and the dynamics it goes into that, it makes things a little easier. Certainly, we're adding the RPI of the caliber of program that BYU is bringing to the conference, it makes us stronger."

Traditionally, the WCC has played some sports on Sunday. But because BYU has a policy of not competing on Sunday, the WCC will make appropriate scheduling changes to accommodate the Cougars.

"There's certainly going to be a scheduling dynamic that will be different," Standiford said. "But I don't necessarily see it as a challenge. It will shift a little bit around what we've traditionally done, but I don't think it's necessarily going to be anything dramatic. Playing a doubleheader on Saturday instead of a single game on Saturday and Sunday is not really that big a deal."

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com

GOING INDEPENDENT

Today's news conference regarding BYU's move to independence will be broadcast live on BYUTV at noon. Viewing options for BYUTV include the basic tier on both Dish Network (channel 9304) and DirecTV (channel 374), and 500 cable systems nationwide. The news conference will also be streamed live on BYUTV at www.byu.tvGOING INDEPENDENT

Today's news conference regarding BYU's move to independence will be broadcast live on BYUTV at noon. Viewing options for BYUTV include the basic tier on both Dish Network (channel 9304) and DirecTV (channel 374), and 500 cable systems nationwide. The news conference will also be streamed live on BYUTV at www.byu.tvABOUT THE WEST COAST CONFERENCE

The West Coast Conference was formed in 1952. The WCC 13 league-sponsored sports: baseball; both men's and women's basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, and tennis; and women's volleyball and crew.

The eight WCC members span the western coast of the United States from Canada to Mexico, from the pine forests of eastern Washington to the Columbia River Basin to the dynamic San Francisco Bay Area to the sunny beaches of Southern California, the conference is characterized by the stability of its membership — only two conferences have been together longer — and its unique emphasis on combining excellence in athletics with excellence in academics.

The conference recognizes championships in each of its sports, has hosted NCAA championship events and produced 26 NCAA Division I individual or team champions. And many outstanding WCC student-athletes have gone on to excel in professional sports.

School Location Enrollment

Gonzaga University Spokane, Wash. 7,275

Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles, Calif. 9,015

Pepperdine University Malibu, Calif. 7,170

University of Portland Portland, Calif. 3,670

Saint Mary's College Moraga, Calif. 3,810

University of San Diego San Diego, Calif. 7,835

University of San Francisco San Francisco, Calif. 8,775

Santa Clara University Santa Clara, Calif. 7,990

SOURCE: WCC WebsiteWest Coast Conference at a glance

The West Coast Conference was formed in 1952. The WCC 13 league-sponsored sports: baseball; both men's and women's basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, and tennis; and women's volleyball and crew.

The eight WCC members span the western coast of the United States from Canada to Mexico, from the pine forests of Eastern Washington, to the Columbia River Basin, to the dynamic San Francisco Bay Area, to the sunny beaches of Southern California, the Conference is characterized by the stability of its membership — only two conferences have been together longer — and its unique emphasis on combining excellence in athletics with excellence in academics.

The Conference recognizes championships in each of its sports, has hosted NCAA championship events, and produced 26 NCAA Division I individual or team champions. And, many outstanding WCC student-athletes have gone on to excel in professional sports.

School Location Enrollment

Gonzaga University, Spokane, Wash., 7,275

Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, 9,015

Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif., 7,170

University of Portland, Portland, Ore., 3,670

Saint Mary's College, Moraga, Calif., 3,810

University of San Diego, San Diego, 7,835

University of San Francisco, San Francisco, 8,775

Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, Calif., 7,990

SOURCE: WCC website

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