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If this really is how it all ends, with BYU remaining in the Mountain West Conference for the moment after all the talk about football independence and another destination for the rest of Cougar athletic program, this group will be wondering why it went to the trouble of everything.

The Utah State Aggies.

The ultimate outcome of USU's well-intended brokering of BYU's original plan to the Western Athletic Conference in all sports except football could be serious damage to only the Aggies. They're left in a weakened WAC, thanks to the departures of Nevada and Fresno State via the Mountain West's response to the once-imminent loss of BYU.

If they stay, which is the current projection in this day-to-day episode, the Cougars will absorb some hits. My over/under for Internet matches of "BYU" and "crawling back" would be 100, give or take a few blogs, although they should be accustomed to derision by now. The Aggies are the ones who turned an apparent no-risk play into a huge setback, while BYU would lose only what administrators thought they were gaining if their scheme had played out as they expected.

There will be some side effects for BYU, though. Any concessions that encourage the Cougars to stay in the MWC — and there must be some, to actually make that happen — will be balanced by everything else they have subjected themselves to in the past week. The degree of ridicule directed at BYU regionally and nationally has been something to behold and a bit extreme, which is part of the game these days.

By sticking around, BYU would encounter resentment, amid persistent questions about hoping for a Big 12 invitation. Then again, the Cougars already were every other MWC school's biggest rival and favorite target, so how would 2010-11 and beyond be any different than before?

In seeking independence, BYU was trying to distinguish itself, a goal that naturally invites criticism. Athletic director Tom Holmoe and other officials obviously figured it was worth a try, and it may well have worked. The alliance with the WAC would have solved major issues in football scheduling, The West Coast Conference may have offered a basketball solution, but could not address those eight or so open dates on the 2012 football calendar.

As for USU, one opportunity for the Aggies' advancement is still in play. BYU's staying in place, to whatever degree of permanence that involves, would leave the Mountain West with the unwieldy number of 11 schools. The 12th? USU and Houston are the logical contenders for addition in 2012, enabling the MWC to create two divisions and stage a football championship game.

That's the primary issue to be addressed, going forward. Looking back, if the Cougars really do stay, this will be the question: Did BYU mismanage the whole thing?

Not really. The school's administrators clearly wanted to pursue independence, and nothing they did in their dealings with Utah State and the other WAC schools was any different than what Utah or Colorado did in arranging to join the Pac-10 or what any other school has done this summer in moving to another conference.

Well, except Nevada and Fresno State, whose binding commitment to the WAC in collaboration with BYU lasted exactly four days.

That's the unintended fallout of BYU's intentions. It's unfair that USU is being punished. All the Aggies were doing was trying to accommodate BYU and strengthen the WAC, amid the self-interest of having home-and-home competition with the Cougars in basketball and an annual in-state football game — if facing a school that has won 20 of the last 21 meetings is considered a benefit.

That's all seemingly crumbling now, except for this possibility in the spirit of fairness: Since the Aggies were advocates in having BYU join them in the WAC, maybe BYU could do the same for USU in the MWC. That's assuming BYU still gets to vote.

Twitter: @tribkurt