This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Nobody welcomed the BYU Cougars with a bouquet of roses Wednesday.
Yet even if no dignitaries from a major bowl game came to LaVell Edwards Stadium to symbolize the possibilities now available to BYU, names that need no introduction spiced the news conference.
Notre Dame and ESPN.
That should get everybody's attention.
In many ways, the unknown and the undefined distinguish BYU's independent power play from Utah's arrival in the Pac-10, which offers Rose Bowl access. BYU's football goals are less easily articulated, without a conference as a frame of reference.
The tradeoff is more than worthwhile, though. An eight-year deal with ESPN and a six-game series with Notre Dame justify BYU's efforts.
Would the Cougars have accepted a Pac-10 or Big 12 invitation in June? Of course. But what emerged from Wednesday's rather low-key announcement, compared with Utah's celebration, gives BYU a draw with the Utes for the adventurous summer of 2010 as both schools prepare to launch farewell tours of the Mountain West Conference.
When the Pac-10 welcomed Utah, I used "validation" and "graduation" to describe the Utes' ascent. Those labels have to apply just as much to BYU, for these reasons: ESPN is televising nearly every home game for eight years and brokering other matchups, the Cougars are playing a six-game series with Notre Dame and a likely bowl guarantee will reward them for a certain number of wins.
So the major issues of independence have been addressed. Scheduling just became more manageable and motivation should not be a problem.
The Western Athletic Conference, even after being harmed when the proposed partnership with BYU fell apart, still is giving the Cougars a scheduling anchor in 2011 and '12. Factoring in the attractive basketball membership with the West Coast Conference, the Cougars somehow came out ahead after the WAC deal crumbled two weeks ago.
BYU now becomes the Notre Dame of ESPN, for promotional value. That in itself makes BYU's move more of an achievement than a desperate act, more a case of forward thinking than sideways fleeing.
Dave Brown, ESPN's vice president of programming, described BYU as "a tremendous and storied program," and that's just the start of the superlatives to come from Bristol, Conn.
This stuff is complicated, though. Utah's showing will be measured entirely by the Pac-10 standings. BYU's performance evaluation will be somewhat more subjective and adjustable, with varying schedules from year to year.
Edwards himself never spoke of targeting anything other than conference championships during his 29 seasons as coach. "Without a conference, you have to change that mind-set and approach, which they'll do," Edwards said. "And there'll be some carrot out at the end there."
In the beginning and the middle, too.
"The bar is raised higher," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, "and we love that."
There's irony in the timing of all of this.
BYU's announcement was staged the day before Utah kicks off its final season as a Bowl Championship Series outsider. With a 19-11 record since 1998 against opponents from conferences with automatic BCS access for their champions, the Utes have proudly represented college football's downtrodden. "It's one thing we've kind of become known for," said offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderaff.
Utah will enjoy one last season of having extra motivation against the big boys, such as Pittsburgh. As of 2011, though, the Utes no longer can beat The Man, because they will be The Man. BYU now becomes the anti-establishment program around here, trying to play its way into the BCS from another direction.
Getting there actually may be more difficult for both BYU and Utah than via the Mountain West, but this much is certain: Whatever the Cougars are doing, everyone will know about it.
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