Doug Robinson: BYU sold out other sports for football's independence

Published: Sunday, Oct. 4 2015 8:55 p.m. MDT

"It's all about the money, money, money.

It's about the ba-bling, ba-bling, ba-bling,

And the cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching."

— Jesse J

SALT LAKE CITY— Now that basketball and the Season of Jimmer have ended, the countdown has begun: BYU will soon step into the void.

Let's see if we've got this straight. Beginning in the fall, the football team will compete as an independent, without conference affiliation, a la Notre Dame. The school's other sports, except the men's and women's track teams, will compete in the West Coast Conference.

During the winter indoor season, the track team will compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation — whatever that is — but during the spring outdoor season it will compete as an independent.

Not that they were an afterthought, but it took five months after BYU's announcement about the fate of its other teams just to figure out what to do with the track teams. The WCC doesn't have track competition.

So there it is: one school with three different athletic designations, and none that make any sense.

Didn't BYU's "other sports" (non-football) deserve better? The Cougars farmed out most of their teams to the California minor leagues for one reason: to accommodate the football team, which was able to sign a fat contract with ESPN as an independent.

It's all about the money, money, money.

Almost no sport wins in this arrangement, not even football, it could be argued.

Basketball doesn't win in this deal. Instead of playing traditional, natural regional rivals such as Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force and New Mexico, it's going to play Loyola Marmount, Pepperdine, Saint Mary's, Gonzaga, San Diego (University, not State), and Santa Clara. Wake us when it's over. It's a step backward. They were hoping to do better than the WAC and the MWC — and they wind up in the WCC?

Instead of playing in The Pit, they're going to play in the pits. The basketball arenas are tiny — Pepperdine 3,100, Saint Mary's 3,800, Loyola Marymount 4,100.The biggest is Gonzaga's, at 6,000. Even if filled to capacity, you could combine the crowds from Santa Clara, Saint Mary's, Pepperdine, San Diego and Loyola Marymount and fit them in BYU's Marriott Center — capacity: 22,700 — and still have room for half of San Francisco's fans.

Instead of playing teams that are mediocre but at least have the sound of respectability and the appeal of traditional rivals — Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado State, etc. — the Cougars are going to play the Loyolas and Pepperdines and San Diegos in what amounts to a can't-win proposition. Sure, many of these schools put good teams on the floor, but they don't have name value or national reputation. They also hold little interest for BYU fans.

The Cougars deserve better in basketball. They came within overtime of advancing to the Elite Eight this season. They produced the Player of the Year. In the last five years, they have won four conference championships and made five NCAA appearances while averaging 27 wins. In 2005, Street and Smith's placed BYU 36th on its list of top 100 greatest college basketball programs of all time. They have collected 30 conference titles and 26 NCAA appearances.

BYU's minor sports don't win in this deal for many of the reasons stated above. Although some of the sports actually might offer tougher competition — swimming, golf, volleyball — the track team got hosed.

The BYU women's track team has finished in the top 10 of the national championship meet 18 times while also producing six Olympians and 81 All-Americans. The men's team can boast of more than 60 All-Americans and a number of Olympians and/or NCAA champions in distance running such as Doug Padilla, Henry Marsh, Paul Cummings, Ed Eyestone, Jason Pyrah and recent NCAA mile champ Miles Batty. Between the men's and women's teams, BYU has won more than 90 indoor and outdoor conference championships.

But starting next spring, they won't even be able to compete for an outdoor conference championship.

The football team doesn't even win in this deal. The Cougars are going to have to replace regional rivals (and steady victories) with a constant lineup of heavyweight opponents to appease the people who own their TV contract, ESPN. Be careful what you wish for. Next season the Cougars have road games at Ole Miss, Texas, Oregon State and Hawaii, and home games against Utah, Central Florida and TCU. The schedules for the following seasons are still being filled, but already they have dates with Boise State, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame.

Fans might have to decide if it's more fun beating up on regional rivals for 10 or so wins a year, or playing ranked teams regularly and winning only six or seven games. By going independent, the Cougars have actually made the task of cracking a BCS bowl more difficult, not easier.

You could make the same argument against the University of Utah's move to the Pac 12 (and I have). If both Utah and BYU had been more patient, they could have been part of a Mountain West Conference that wound up attracting Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State. TCU probably would not have fled to the Big East. All of these teams combined could have presented a lineup that was formidable enough to win acceptance as a BCS conference.

It's all about the money now.

email: drob@desnews.com

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