July 1 officially ended BYU's and University of Utah's marriage to the Mountain West Conference. The divorces were anything but amicable.
Utah was lured by the glamour of a Pac-12 conference. Utah now has exponentially more TV money than it did in the Mountain West Conference. It also lands big name games almost weekly. Its other sports, both strong and weak, follow into the conference automatically.
BYU, on the other hand, was left in a league that has never really gained its footing or place on the national stage. BYU, shunned by the Pac-12, hoped for a miracle from the Big 12 Conference when it lost Nebraska and Colorado to other leagues. BYU was ignored. Faced with staying in the Mountain West, the Cougars, with money and booster power of its own, decided to take its football program independent.
BYU had hoped to land its other sports in the Western Athletic Conference, but that proposal fell apart when Fresno State and Nevada announced plans to leave the WAC for the MWC, like trading McDonalds for Burger King, not much difference really.
BYU then settled for a more tenuous spot for its other sports in the smaller West Coast Conference.
So how did we get to this point?
Go back to 1999. The WAC was in the middle of the experiment of being a super league with 16 teams: BYU, Utah, Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico, Texas-El Paso, Rice, Southern Methodist, San Diego State, Wyoming, Tulsa, Hawaii, Fresno State, UNLV, San Jose State and Texas Christian.
Yes, the league was big. Scheduling proved to be difficult. However, the Cotton Bowl had a contract to possibly take the WAC champion -- a big New Year's Day game BYU got to taste, unlike the who-cares Vegas Bowl that is usually 10 days or so before Christmas.
Then, eight schools decided to form their own league, the MWC, and leave the WAC. In case you forget, the original eight were BYU, Utah, San Diego State, Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming. The MWC was lured more by the blitz of Vegas than the stability of long-time WAC programs UTEP, Hawaii and more stable Fresno State. The league also told TCU to take a hike, before bringing them back several years later.
Life in the Mountain West was always on the fringe. If Utah hadn't had its Urban Meyer-led run to the Fiesta Bowl in 2005, and its 2008 intrepid run to the Sugar Bowl, plus TCU's two runs to the Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl, the MWC would have been more obscure.
MWC commissioner Craig Thompson for several years had a contract with the Liberty Bowl to play the football champion against the Conference USA champions.
But that didn't last and the Liberty Bowl decided to take a runner-up Southeast Conference team.
After that, Thompson could do no better than the Vegas Bowl for the MWC champion. The other bowls for the league were hastily made: Poinsettia Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl and the Albuquerque Bowl. Along with occasional side trips to other small bowl games such as Louisiana's Independence Bowl.
Thompson either didn't try or couldn't make any headway with the Holiday Bowl, the former bowl for many WAC champions; the Cotton Bowl, close to TCU; the Sun Bowl, or even the early New Year's Day games, such as Gator and Outback bowls.
The MWC's other problem was its television flop. For some reason, Thompson and the MWC decided to forgo re-signing with ESPN and decided they could form their own TV network called "The Mountain."
The league forgot the need to work out a distribution plan for what should have been called "The Foothill." They had no contract with either The Dish or DirecTV satellite services. A very small portion of the nation even had access to the network, and if it did, it was on the more expensive cable packages.
"The Foothill" improved a little, but fell behind the gains of other sports networks and the ability to compensate schools with similar broadcasting fees.
Utah has now hit the motherlode of TV deals with the Pac-12 signing a huge ESPN deal. BYU has also signed with ESPN for an amount not close to what Utah will get, but a lot more than what they got from "The Foothill."
Utah no longer has to run the table with an undefeated season for a Bowl Championship Series game.
It will be an interesting challenge for many of Utah's minor sports to compete with the depth of the Pac-12. However, the Utes have gained a lot in recruiting power.
BYU should win many WCC titles in sports such as golf, soccer, baseball golf, tennis and cross country. But the track team doesn't have a conference and softball had to talk its way into the WAC. However, it will be initially hard for fans to get up for league games against Loyola-Marymount, University of San Diego, Pepperdine, Santa Clara, San Francisco, St. Mary's, Portland and Gonzaga.
In the mean time. BYU athletic director, Tom Holmoe, should be constantly courting the Big 12, making the league realize it needs BYU. Any league, such as the Big 12, with only 10 schools (confused?) cannot have a football championship game. BYU would also draw as well as most Big 12 schools.
Stay tuned, but not to "The Foothill."