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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) 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.

Utah's DeVonte Christopher runs for a touchdown past Colorado State's Ivery Herd during the game in Salt Lake City on Saturday. The Utes trounced the Rams 59-6. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's DeVonte Christopher runs for a touchdown past Colorado State's Ivery Herd during the game in Salt Lake City on Saturday. The Utes trounced the Rams 59-6. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

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.

JJ Di Luigi of BYU runs around the arms of Chris Prosinski of Wyoming during the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday. The Cougars defeated the Cowboys 25-20. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) JJ Di Luigi of BYU runs around the arms of Chris Prosinski of Wyoming during the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday. The Cougars defeated the Cowboys 25-20. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

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.

Utah's Luca Drca stands on a table and holds up the MWC tournament championship trophy at center court after the Utes beat San Diego State 52-50 in 2009 in Las Vegas. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) Utah's Luca Drca stands on a table and holds up the MWC tournament championship trophy at center court after the Utes beat San Diego State 52-50 in 2009 in Las Vegas. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

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.

As I've mentioned earlier this spring, BYU and Utah leave the MWC with a combined 189 trophies. The rest of the league has 116 in total. The Cougars and Utes have won a combined 61 percent of MWC hardware. BYU, on its own, has accounted for a whopping 45 percent.

From purely a football angle, it would have been interesting to see what this league could have done with Utah, BYU, TCU and Boise State. But that ship has sailed.

As of this week, BYU is not yet independent and the Utes are not quite in the Pac-12. That will be an accomplished deed by July 1 but the benefits of these respective moves are already well chronicled.

BYU's great desire for more exposure for its sports programs is on track to explode a hundredfold and TV revenue will increase between eight to 10 times within months.

Utah will become part of a mega TV deal that is expected to rival anything in college sports. In time, when Utah's shares of Pac-12 television money kicks in, the Utes will be bathing in coin that can be directed to recruiting, facilities and salaries.

As time ticks by, it will be easy to distinguish the established gains by Utah and BYU over this move. It will become a spreadsheet click away. It will be clear, contrasted by gaudy numbers and figures.

But what we don't know are relationships of the future. How will they grow, what will they feel like, how genuine and constructive will they become? Is BYU's honeymoon in the WCC for its many sports going to last or wear thin among the religious schools? Will Pac-12 brothers be as accommodating to Utah as we believe, particularly in the North?

Will BYU and Utah have their staff members, media and coaches met with the same behind-the-scenes administrative hospitality at gymnasiums and stadiums in their new digs as they did in the MWC?

I'd expect it would be so.

If there is one thing the WAC and MWC in-the-trench university workers consistently did very well, it's make you feel welcome.

The time has come. Papers have been signed. BYU and Utah will leave their MWC and WAC legacies behind, along with their NCAA basketball tournament unit earnings.

It is a new era.

The time has come.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

Twitter: Harmonwrites

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