BYU leaving MWC for 2011-12 season
Brigham Young University will leave the Mountain West Conference for the 2011-12 season, go independent in football and join the West Coast Conference in all other sports, most notably men's basketball.
The WCC confirmed the addition of BYU effective June 30, 2011, on Tuesday. The school and the WCC announced the move at a news conference Wednesday.
BYU had originally agreed to go to the Western Athletic Conference in all sports and go independent in football before the MWC squelched the move by inviting WAC members Fresno State and Nevada two weeks ago.
BYU had until Wednesday to notify the MWC if it was going to leave for the 2011-12 season.
The WCC held a conference call Monday with all eight presidents to approve the move. WCC presidents wanted only private institutions in the league and weren't interested in any other WAC member. The WCC wasn't limiting its search to only faith-based schools, but BYU does fit the profile since the other eight members are all faith-based universities and colleges. When WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich first arrived at the WCC in April 2008, he had looked into adding Big West members Pacific (private) and UC Santa Barbara but the moves were rejected, notably for including a public school.
BYU has worked out a football schedule for the 2011 season that will likely include at least two WAC members -- traditional rival Utah State and a previously scheduled series against Hawaii, which was in the WAC with BYU for decades.
BYU had worked out a scheduling agreement with the WAC for football prior to the initial deal blowing up two weeks ago. That schedule had BYU playing six WAC teams -- Utah State, Hawaii, Nevada, Fresno State, New Mexico State and San Jose State. On Monday, WAC commissioner Karl Benson demanded that Fresno State and Nevada remain in the WAC for the 2011-12 season since both schools failed to notify the league of an intention to leave prior to a July 1 deadline, meaning the Cougars may still play some of these schools on an independent football schedule.
Wednesday, BYU announced an agreement with ESPN to televise its football games through the 2018 season.
The school is working to flesh out its complete football schedule during the ESPN agreement, according to sources. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in a school news release that Notre Dame will play BYU six times before 2020.
"Thanks to the success of our programs, we've had a difficult time finding teams willing to come to LaVell Edwards Stadium to play us," Holmoe said in the release. "We believe the combined resources between BYU and ESPN are already paying off -- we're still working out the details, but we have agreed to a six-game deal through 2020 with Notre Dame football that will bring the Fighting Irish to Provo."
BYU has already scheduled nonconference games with Oregon State and Texas for the coming years and has lined up a series with Boise State, which is joining the MWC after this season in the WAC. And since BYU is leaving the MWC, the Boise State game will become a nonconference game.
BYU is going independent in football with the full knowledge that it won't be guaranteed a seat at the BCS table. BYU will be an independent like Army and Navy, not like Notre Dame, which is guaranteed a BCS bid if it's in the top eight in the final BCS standings.
Adding BYU is a major coup for the WCC, which is expanding to nine teams and adding a new member for the first time in 30 years, when it added San Diego and Gonzaga. The WCC will increase its 14-game men's basketball schedule to a true round-robin 16-game schedule for the 2011-12 season. The WCC will have to move the dates of its conference tournament, at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, since the semifinals have traditionally been held on Sunday and the final on Monday. BYU is not allowed to play on Sundays.
The WCC now has a major presence in Spokane, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco-Oakland; Los Angeles; and Salt Lake City.
"This transforms the league with one move," said one source with knowledge of the situation.
BYU enters the league in men's basketball as a major player and joins perennial NCAA team Gonzaga as well as recent NCAA-bid challenger Saint Mary's, fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance, at the top of the conference. The three-team top tier of Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's should challenge a number of conferences like the MWC, the A-10 and C-USA that are outside the power six for top-three elite teams.
BYU has been to 25 NCAA tournaments, including four straight under Dave Rose. The Cougars knocked off Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season.
If Benson gets his wish and Nevada and Fresno State have to stay in the WAC for the 2011-12 season, then the MWC would have just eight members: new arrival Boise State, as well as Colorado State, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming and Air Force. Utah is leaving the MWC after this season to join the Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10) with fellow newcomer Colorado.
The MWC would then add Nevada and Fresno State in 2012-13 to become a 10-team league -- but with a gaping hole in the region since there would be no member in the state of Utah, a sizable market.
"We look forward to the future with great excitement -- particularly welcoming recent additions Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada into the Mountain West," MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement.
Andy Katz is a senior writer who covers college basketball for ESPN.com.
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