In their first season of independence, the Cougars will have traveled to Mississippi, Texas (twice), Oregon and Hawaii. Competing in a western division of the Big East, they would play only one or two games each season on the East Coast.
Besides, considering BYU's built-in following around the country, a diverse schedule was part of the school's motivation for leaving the Mountain West.
BYU administrators would not be joining the Big East without assurances that the TV platform they've created via independence would come with them. So the Cougars basically would maintain the benefits of independence, while adding the advantages of conference membership.
That's why this is a good move. BYU will obtain better Bowl Championship Series access, play meaningful games in November, have the frame of reference that only a league can provide and enjoy a range of bowl destinations as opposed to the Cougars' knowing where they're going, regardless of whether they're 6-6 or 11-1.
This gets even better if Air Force comes along and the Big East expands to 12 teams with an annual championship game. The service academies are the closest thing to BYU in college football, in terms of the school's standards and recruiting limitations. A division of BYU, AFA, Boise State, Southern Methodist, Houston and one other school would make for great competition, along with the variety that three crossover games would offer.
Joining the Big 12 would have meant a higher level of football for BYU, as well as a home for the entire athletic program. Yet while having long ago endorsed a move to the Big 12, I'm stopping just short of saying the hybrid of the Big East for football and the West Coast Conference for other sports actually is better for BYU. In addition to BYU's not having to sheepishly bolt the WCC this soon, there's something to be said for competing at the proper level. Seriously, based on budget alone, do the Cougars really belong in a football league with Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State?
BYU is more reasonably positioned in the Big East, which would become a fun league with some great offenses in the West and decent defenses in the East. And indications are that the conference will retain a BCS berth for its champion. The current Big East is losing West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, yet the league is so well balanced that the remaining schools all have had their moments in the past five years.
Independence has played out favorably for BYU, in many ways. Saturday's 8:15 p.m. kickoff against New Mexico State in Provo is not one of them. Who knows, ESPN still may want the Cougars to occupy that programming slot in Big East play, but at least a conference game would be meaningful, not merely a schedule filler.
League play is the best way to judge a team, which is why BYU's 2011 success or failure is difficult to gauge.
BYU's fans have endured a lot this year, showing their loyalty amid the obstacles of Friday games, unattractive opponents and cold temperatures. Future schedules already promised much more for their money, although not necessarily in November, when football games should matter most. That's important to remember about this move: Not only is BYU headed east, but good opponents are coming west.