Just as the college football carousel was speeding up, Brigham Young University wanted off the ride.
With the Pac-10 expanding to 12, the Big Ten annexing Nebraska and both the Big 12 and Big East trying to keep their collective heads above water, BYU took a path few have traveled.
Beginning this season, the Cougars took the leap ... into independence.
After spending 12 seasons in the Mountain West Conference, the Cougars became the fourth independent program at the Football Bowl Subdivision level and only the second non-academy school to break the chains of conference association.
Nine games into BYU's first season as a swinging single, coach Bronco Mendenhall likes what he sees.
"I think it's been a great move for us in a couple of ways," Mendenhall said. "The chance to play in a few different venues and be in places around the country that we normally wouldn't travel to has been a great experience for our team, but most importantly -- the main reason for independence is exposure and we've had that."
So far this season, the Mormon private school tucked just south of Salt Lake City has seen its football team featured on ESPN's family of networks seven times and is slated for four more. Conveniently enough, the next one comes this week when the Vandals take on the Cougars on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. PST on ESPN2.
The sudden national exposure is part of a contract signed between ESPN and BYU when the school decided to go independent.
The deal is an eight-year agreement and guarantees that the Cougars will be featured an annual minimum of three times on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC and once on ESPNU.
With the school's own in-house nationwide network, BYUtv, already broadcasting games, the Cougars are ensured of a national audience for at least every home game.
In its seven games so far, ESPN approximates that BYU football has been shown in 1.2 million households and has had over 1.6 million viewers. Now combine that with BYUtv and the Cougars' 13-game inaugural season of independence is expected to exceed 1.2 billion (with a "b") households.
"We have a worldwide following," Mendenhall said. "The number of people that can see BYU football play and see what kind of program we have and the type of young men we have and what kind of institution we represent has been phenomenal and absolutely not possible or being close to similar in terms of coverage from our previous conference affiliation."
While BYU's current television deal is the stuff athletic directors fantasize about, the Cougars are learning that building a 12- or 13-game schedule as a solo project can be both invigorating and daunting.
On the invigorating side, the Cougars travelled to face storied programs Ole Miss and Texas to open the season and two weeks ago played a showcase game against TCU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Cougars will also begin the first year of a six-year series with Notre Dame next season and have signed on to play against Boise State, Washington State and Georgia Tech multiple times in the coming years.
On the other hand, scheduling late-season games has become an issue with not many schools wanting to break the rotation of conference play, Mendenhall said.
That is primarily why the Cougars have scheduled a mash-up of Pac-12 (Oregon State), WAC (Idaho, San Jose State, Hawaii, New Mexico State) and rivalry games (Utah, Utah State) throughout the season.
Another drawback of independence is that without any conference title game to play in, odds are the Cougars would have to run the table to claim a spot in a Bowl Championship Series game.
"At some point as an independent -- I don't know how many years we would go, but we want access to the top tier of bowl games and a chance to play in those games without being undefeated," Mendenhall added.
If the Cougars are looking to latch on with a conference, they certainly don't have to look far.
As recently as Monday, the coach revealed in his weekly news conference that the Big East has approached the school about potential membership in a new western division of the conference.
"It's nice to be wanted," Mendenhall said of the Big East's interest. "It's also difficult if you're passed over for any reason. This institution is so different and unique than any other place because of the faith-based nature of it and the private nature of it. Conferences have to want everything that we're part of. But they get great sports teams, they get great exposure, great attendance and a great following.
"It'll be interesting to see where we end up and how. But right now I like where we are."
Visit the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho) at www.lmtribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services