Loyal Cougars

Wait a minute, could this independence thing actually work?

BYU and Michigan State recently jointly announced a home-and-home scheduling arrangement with games being played in 2016 and 2020.

The announcement came just after news of a semi-neutral site game against SEC powerhouse LSU and the very exciting neutral-and-home series with Missouri. BYU has also scheduled home-and-home deals with Washington, UCLA, Arizona State, and Stanford. The three-game series with Arizona looks really exciting with what Rich Rodriguez is doing there and the neutral game will probably be a true neutral game, fan-wise. Southern California got a two-for-one from BYU, but two of those games will be played during the last week of the season and the first game is in Provo, both positives for BYU. Even a home-and-home against USF sure isn’t bad.

The point it is, at least from a scheduling perspective, things are looking up.

There are some complaints about the front-loaded deals—that these high-level teams are always hosting BYU first and visiting Provo later. With the revelation that BYU pays nothing to Missouri to buyout the game in Provo if the Cougars are in a Power 5 conference by 2020, I can understand teams would be hesitant about having their home game canceled, and ask for BYU to visit first.

The result is that by 2019, BYU will either be in a Power 5 conference or it will be playing a schedule (even a home schedule) very much like a Power 5 conference team.

How happy would you be if BYU was invited to a Power 5 conference? How excited would you be about the future, even if it were a few years out?

The home schedule for 2019 currently features Wisconsin, Washington, USC, and Boise State. The home slate for 2020 currently has Arizona, Michigan State, Virginia and Missouri.

Assuming BYU has still not joined a Power 5 conference, either 2019 or 2020 will be the first year of BYU’s second independent TV contract. I don’t want to go out too far on a ledge, but I think BYU will be able to get a broadcast partner to sign up to carry those games.

That’s not to say everything is lost until then. BYU has games at home in the next four years with UCLA and Cal. Utah will be back on the schedule. Also, BYU hosts Boise State in the 2015 home opener and home games against the Broncos will continue every other year. That’s a solid game and one of the only foundational pieces of independence that hasn’t fallen through.

When BYU went independent, there were two cornerstone announcements made along with it: a scheduling deal with the WAC, and six games with Notre Dame.

The WAC no longer exists as a football conference and Notre Dame signed up for five games a year with the ACC. Having Notre Dame at home this year or next would have been a big plus and it’s unfortunate what’s happened, but it’s hardly the only series in the country to get shaken up by conference realignment.

Hawaii and Utah were penciled in as annual series as well, but those schools chose to do other things and BYU was forced to find replacement games on relatively short notice.

When BYU went independent, Athletic Director Tom Holmoe urged patience from fans, saying, there may be “a transition period of a couple of years before we achieve the full vision of what football independence can become.”

It looks like losing the WAC deal and Notre Dame’s move to the ACC has turned that transition period into something closer to six or seven years rather than the two or three years BYU was hoping for, had set up, and had cut out from under them. Starting your own business can be rocky.

Big 12 leadership consistently maintains that Baylor and TCU’s snub alone will not lead to knee-jerk decisions about expansion. The snub of Baylor doesn’t have to lead to expansion to help BYU. The new playoff reality is leading teams like Michigan State to decide that they’d rather have a team like BYU on the schedule than an opponent the likes of Eastern Michigan.

Even with the 9-game schedules many conferences are adopting, teams know they can’t schedule three cupcakes and expect to be invited to a lucrative postseason game. Most teams have seen this coming, but the universal hating of Baylor’s cupcake schedule should shut down any remaining doubt.

There have been plenty of skeptics about independence, some with good reason and some just hysterical. For fans, the continued uncertainly of the future can be unsettling, but look at these schedules—we’re going to make it.

There was and is a vision of what football independence can become. BYU fans may have had to endure more of a rocky transition than they’d like, but getting games with Texas isn’t the worst fate in the world. Being forced to play Savannah State in November because someone bailed at the last second was less than ideal, but look at these schedules—we’re going to make it.

The transition maybe took a little longer than we’d hoped, but while they aren’t all headliners, the next few seasons aren’t exactly chopped liver themselves. There will be great games played in Provo. We’re going to make it.

I was able to visit Notre Dame for the 2012 game and one thing that impressed me was the Irish’s air of confidence. There are plenty of people who complain about Notre Dame’s supposed arrogance, but they built a machine. The Big 10 rejected them, largely for religious and cultural reasons and they built a program that stands on its own. Around their stadium, there is no doubt that Notre Dame will always be Notre Dame. BYU isn’t ever going to be Notre Dame and the Cougars don’t have to be to survive and thrive as a serious college football team. They just have to make it.

What Tom Holmoe has been able to put together for the future, even with plans A and B getting cut out from under him is nothing short of amazing. TV markets may be playing more and more of a role in college football, but what largely separates big-time from the small-time is still the fans.

BYU has great things coming. It is building something. BYU hasn’t put together an exceptional year on the field in independence yet and it’s going to need to if it wants that something to get built and be able to continue to stand on its own.

This long-term schedule looks great—not good, great. Power 5 great. BYU is building something. Either they’re going to make it, or we’re going to make it. It just depends on where you want to stand.


  1. J Thomas

    January 23, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    I don’t think that the reason Notre Dame is not in the Big 10 is because “The Big 10 rejected them, largely for religious and cultural reasons”. Where did that statement come from? I think that Notre Dame rejected the Big 10 largely for religious and cultural reasons. As an ND president said about 15 or so years ago, ND’s core identity is “private, Catholic and independent”.

  2. Larry

    January 23, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Not sure I care either way, just want to see the team win and win consistently. Beat the easy teams and beat the tougher ones or at least be competitive and win 50%+ of those games.

  3. Tim

    January 23, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Conference constituencies are dictated by financial considerations. Notre Dame has rejected Big-10 invitations because it believes that it will make more money on its own, e.g., its non-shared NBC contract is more lucrative than the shared B10 contract. For the Big-12, the advantage of a championship game is negated by the need to share the conference money pot.

  4. Adam

    January 23, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    As a skeptic of independence myself, I’m going to assume I am one “with good reason” and not one of the so-called “hysterical” ones.

  5. Gayle

    January 23, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    The Big10 didn’t reject Notre Dame. Notre Dame rejected the Big10. They went to the ACC where they could keep their football team independent.

    I agree that the schedules look great. The funny thing is that by the time they get independence working the way everyone want, a power 5 conference will probably see the value of adding them to their fold. Then BYU will have a big choice to make. I for one like independence for football and all other sports in the WCC. Despite the disparity is school size, the WCC is a good cultural match. BYU just needs to be more competitive in basketball with Gonzaga year in and year out.

  6. Salem Blue

    January 23, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    We have to recruit better and maybe broaden our vision where BYU is a place when good LDS athletes come in addition to good Christian athletes. Bottom line is BYU needs to upgrade talent if it upgrades the schedule.

  7. Ronald Uharriet

    January 23, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    I really like your article Greg Welch. I also like the replies of J Thomas, Tim and Adam.

    Yes, I have been inspired by the reality of which you speak in your article and I am on board to have the patience to wait it out for as long as it takes within reason, for as long as I see progress being made and indeed, I do see progress being made.

    I continue to praise those that do the programing, year after year, for giving us the best and the most P5 type, (BCS type), teams to play in a single season.

    I still hold out, not to criticize, but to let those programers know how important it is to me, because I believe it to be important to my team, (The Cougars) and to my University, (BYU) to do all they can to bring the P5 respect to our Cougars which we need in order not to fall into insignificance in this new P5 landscape of College Football.

    I fell that we are on track, by gradually increasing the amount of P5 teams that we can handle until we prove to ourselves, that we are capable of increasing more P5 teams to our schedule. I think that there is room for improvement when it comes to doing better planning so that we do not need to schedule anymore Division 2 (FCS) schools. Regardless of who’s fault it is, or for what the reason is, I do believe it hurts us and I don’t want us to be hurt anymore.

  8. Tyler in China

    January 24, 2015 at 6:16 am

    I’m not going to repeat any of the good and varied points above, I’m just going to add one thing:
    When I can watch BYU football games live during a layover in the biz class lounge in the Amsterdam Airport, or when I can catch the basketball replay of BYU-[WCC foe] after Church on Sunday at my home in China, or watch a volleyball game during a business trip to Taiwan, I am very glad that we are independent and have a TV contract to go along with it.

  9. Floyd Johnson

    January 25, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    I will continue to maintain that Independence is better for fans outside of Utah. An invitation from a big conference certainly would have improved the last few home schedules. However, the Independent schedule has made traveling to a game reasonable for thousands of additional fans. BYU’s Independent television coverage makes the remainder of the games incredibly accessible. I used to watch rebroadcasts of games alone at 1:00 am at the church building in West Philadelphia. Now I can watch them live on my phone. For fans in Provo, I get it. Games start late and you miss the annual matchups against Wyoming, New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego St. For fans anywhere else in the country, we can now drive to a game every other year, and every game is on basic cable.

    My prediction: One final round of realignment is coming to bring the Big 10 to 12. BYU will not get an invitation and Sunday play will be the explanation. When it is clear that no other conference will come looking, the next MWC commissioner will point out the arrangement with Boise State and remind BYU they never would have left if they had been offered those same accommodations. BYU will say no. And that will be just fine for those of us outside of Utah.

    • bradleysmith1212

      January 26, 2015 at 10:43 am

      I’m one of the few that has never really been enamoured by the Big 12 – other than the fact that it gets BYU into the P5 club.

      I would MUCH rather see BYU play PAC 12 teams and MWC teams (where BYU’s fan base actually resides and where BYU has actual rivalries – Utah, USU, Boise St., Hawaii, etc.) over the Big 12 schedule. The frequent Big Ten, SEC, and ACC opponents supplant what Texas and Oklahoma would do for our schedule.

  10. bradleysmith1212

    January 26, 2015 at 10:39 am

    If BYU had Utah on the schedule uninterrupted by the 2-year break, the Provo fans would quiet down. THAT is the biggest difference between WAC/MWC and independence. WE were accustomed to end EVERY football season with the Holy War rivalry game. Boise St., Utah St., Houston, Nevada, UNLV, Fresno St., SJSU, UCF, ECU, Cincinnati, MTSU, and UConn, are pretty similar to BYU’s former WAC and MWC schedules, sans Utah.

    As mentioned, most of BYU’s future home and road schedules are a nice upgrade over WAC/MWC days.

    Hopefully, Utah continues the series beyond 2018. This would mean that Utah is in Provo in 2019 and 2021, etc., further enriching BYU’s future schedules.

  11. Cougar fan overseas

    February 7, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Having lived outside of Utah for the past 14 years and overseas for the past 7, I can tell you that the move to Independence has been a huge improvement over being in the MWC. When BYU was on the Mtn and I lived on the East Coast or in the Midwest, I could never ever watch their games. Now, I can watch pretty much every home game and most away games. Games on BYUtv have been awesome as well!

    Independence has been great for those of us who don’t live in Utah. If we all hang in there, it will soon be great for those who do as well.