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Monson: BYU makes its sausage, finds its independence

Published September 1, 2010 11:38 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Otto von Bismarck would have loved what BYU pulled off on Tuesday. The long-ago German aristocrat and chancellor is famously credited, some say erroneously, with the words: "Football independence is like sausage. It's better not to see it made."

OK, that's not exactly what the old statesman said, if he, in fact, ever said anything about making sausages. But if he had said it, he would have been spot on.

Otto v. B. is also quoted as saying: "With a gentleman, I am always a gentleman and a half, and when I have to do with a pirate, I try to be a pirate and a half."

Some versions of that quote take out the word "pirate" and insert "fraud."

Either way, who knew there were so many similarities between cutthroat European politics of the 19th Century and modern American college football?

BYU certainly did its share of stuffing meat into the scraped intestines of slaughtered animals in its quest for independence, wedging most of its other sports into the West Coast Conference, punctuating a sloppy journey with confirmation Tuesday, dealing with all kinds of pirates and frauds en route.

It was a remarkable, revolutionary course, given that BYU typically is about as deliberate and conservative an institution as any.

We're talking about a school that once disallowed women from wearing jeans on campus and banned Madonna CDs from being sold in its bookstore.

Suddenly, the Cougars were making national headlines for their accelerated move to dump the Mountain West and boldly go where few football programs now hover — back to the "I" formation.

Unfortunately for them, many of those headlines turned negative. The primary reason for the move was for BYU to gain more exposure, shining a positive spotlight on the school's owner, the LDS Church. Because the original plan not only included the liberation of Cougar football from the MWC and its prison of a TV deal, but also regular games against WAC teams, and the placing of those other sports in that league, things got chaotic.

You know the track by now: WAC works a deal with BYU, MWC raids WAC, BYU backs off, Utah State twists in the wind, WAC teeters on extinction, commentators and columnists call BYU arrogant and delusional, WCC negotiates with BYU, WAC threatens lawsuits, BYU stays quiet, and, then, finally, declares independence.

On the one hand, it's tempting to give BYU credit for its determination to bust out of the status quo. No doubt Utah's jump to the Pac-10 frustrated and motivated BYU administrators, and the lousy TV deal with The Mtn. was no longer tenable.

If nothing else, BYU's actions reveal the level of desperation it felt, playing a brand of football that deserves to be in a BCS league, having a program that lures more fans and generates more national interest than many BCS teams do, and, yet, presently finding no way in.

It's a probability that going independent will make it harder, not easier, for the Cougars to qualify for a BCS bowl. They will have to schedule almost perfectly, with just enough top-drawer teams but not too many in any given year, to win their games and be impressive enough to be highly ranked.

That's complicated.

But it can also bask now in what ESPN can bring.

BYU's push to find its place, even if that place is on its own while waiting for a Big 12 invite, can be viewed as nothing more Machiavellian than what teams that have switched leagues, including Utah, have done. If there's no opportunity elsewhere, what's so dastardly about the Cougars breaking free?

The WAC's troubles can be traced just as much to the betrayal by Nevada and Fresno State, each of which helped shape the package to bring in BYU's non-football sports. If they hadn't ducked out down a side alley, most of this would have been cleaner.

On the other hand, in its rush to bolt, BYU found itself knee deep in bloody pork, turkey and beef entrails, all the while silently attempting to twist those bits of meat into their encasement. If the Cougars had measured everything slower, more carefully, they might have avoided some of the mess here, if not all the collateral damage.

The MWC is clearly damaged, the WAC is damaged, Utah State is damaged. The WCC is enhanced. But there were mistakes made, all around. Some say BYU's reputation is damaged, too, although calling for it to do business differently from what others in college football do in bettering their circumstances, especially in the face of an unjust BCS division that favors some and disfavors others, on account of BYU having lofty ideals and an honor code, is hollow and disingenuous.

Otto von Bismarck knew all this.

He knew when sausages were made, when pirates and frauds were in the mix, getting deals done wouldn't be pretty, they required a dirty kind of resolve, along with goggles, sturdy galoshes and a hefty slicker to shield the slop.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com.






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