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BYU seeking independence?

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There are rumblings coming out of Provo, Utah.

The chatter involves BYU's bid to become an independent in football, while moving from the Mountain West to the WAC for all other sports. The Cougars would like to fashion themselves as another Notre Dame, and with this proposed move, the university would take one step closer to completing the transformation.

The Irish are obviously the model in terms of creating an independent product that garners national attention year-round, one that comes complete with a huge television deal and their own set of BCS rules (automatic acceptance into a BCS Bowl if the team finishes in the top eight).

BYU and its non-BCS brethren have been trying to get the attention of the BCS for years, with little or no acknowledgement. While that sentiment has changed a little over the last few seasons, it is still a problem that rears its ugly head every December.

Tired of waiting, other schools have made recent moves toward rectifying the situation. Boise State has left the WAC and will join the Mountain West next season. While that seems like a somewhat lateral move, it also seemingly moved the MWC closer to gaining access to the BCS party than the WAC, especially with a lineup that was to include BYU, Utah, Boise State and TCU.

But the first domino that fell the wrong way for the Mountain West was Utah's move to a new 12-team Pac-10 (to be re-branded as the Pac-12), as BYU's main rival moved to the world of BCS riches. That couldn't have sat well on the BYU campus, nor throughout the fan base.

BYU's potential move would seem to move the Mountain West farther from the BCS pot of gold.

The league wasted no time when told of BYU's possible move, inviting both Fresno State and Nevada to join the conference. It was a necessity to do something, or everything gained by the young conference recently may have been for nothing.

MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson is trying to make a positive out of a huge negative, but I'm not sure even he believes that adding the Bulldogs and Wolf Pack, while losing the Utes and Cougars, is a good thing for the conference. Neither of those new additions has the tradition or resources of the Utah-based behemoths.

Meanwhile, there is perhaps a bigger picture for BYU, which is first and foremost a school that looks to promote the Mormon faith. In that vein, this move makes a lot of marketing sense. Reaching as many people around the country and the world is the main goal in Provo, and if the team follows the blueprint set by the Irish, independence could be a step in the right direction.

BYU however, doesn't have a national television contract like Notre Dame has with NBC. BYU-TV is already in place, but needs the recognition and reach that will only come if the Cougars set themselves free of a conference schedule peppered with lesser competition. The school's ability to put together a killer, nationally-based schedule is the key here. Notre Dame plays powerhouses on a regular basis and lands those deals because of the network exposure and money involved.

BYU doesn't generate that same type of appeal to opponents or to mainstream viewers, at least right now. SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten teams may think twice about taking on a dangerous BYU team, especially late in the season when they can see a shot at the national title within grasp. It's too risky on the field, and not beneficial enough off right now in terms of marketing or finances.

BYU would like assurances from the BCS that the program, if independent, will gain automatic access to a BCS game if it meets certain criteria, much like Notre Dame. That could be the key here to the whole thing, though after sticking its neck out and threatening to leave the Mountain West, the university might be forced to adopt a "if we build it, they will come" mentality.

If the Cougars can put together a tough schedule year-in and year-out and maintain success, the BCS will no longer be able to ignore them, regardless of any guarantees.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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