The Sports Guy loves a classic movie as much as the next guy, and it has been 50 years since the classic Western “The Magnificent Seven” first graced the screens. There's a scene in that movie, shortly after the capture of the seven heroic gunfighters, where the bad guy is questioning them over their motives.
After his first request for an explanation is rebuffed, he finds a taker for his second inquiry to why seven heroes would ride to help a dirt-poor farming town. The answer is provided by Vin, played by the late Steve McQueen.
“It's like a fellow I once knew in El Paso,” says Vin. “One day, he just took all his clothes off and jumped in a mess of cactus. I asked him that same question, ‘why?' He said it seemed to be a good idea at the time.”
In the event that Brigham Young University moves forward with its rumored plans to withdraw from the Mountain West Conference to become a football independent, I suspect school athletic officials will be having a similar conversation in the years ahead.
The Cougars have until Sept. 1 to announce their intentions. By all major media accounts, had the Mountain West not performed an eleventh-hour invitation to snatch both Nevada and Fresno State as members (a move, I might add, that was advocated in this column some weeks back), the Cougs would have already have made the announcement. ESPN reported earlier this week that a preliminary 2011 independent schedule had already been crafted for the school's football program.
Look, I understand the financial elements of the equation —BYU is responsible for many of the media dollars that currently seep into the MWC television coffers and the school is watching a lot of that cash get redistributed into others' pockets. I get that.
That said, there's a reason the trend in college sports in recent years is for schools to eschew independence and cluster together in conferences, even when such affiliations make no geographic sense (like Louisiana Tech in the WAC). Even the all-powerful Notre Dame was forced to relent and seek conference affiliation in all sports but football in order to survive.
And let's be very clear here. Brigham Young is not Notre Dame. Any similarity between the two schools ends at the point where we acknowledge both are religiously affiliated. Any Cougar fans thinking there's a greater parallel are jading themselves.
Notre Dame has tradition, something BYU carries very little of once you get east of the Great Plains, where most television sets reside. Notre Dame ensures a record crowd for most any stadium that brings them to town. Does BYU command a similar national fan base?
And who, exactly, will the Cougars be playing in this independent football schedule? Games against WAC opponents aren't going to light up TV executives' eyes or television ratings numbers. Games against big-name opponents? That Texas-BYU series looks nice, but how many other schools are willing to follow the Longhorns? In an era where SEC teams schedule Chattanooga, Big 12 teams invite Montana State to town and the PAC-10 takes on Portland State, who in their right mind will schedule BYU, much less travel to town, in October or November?
Whoever it is probably isn't going to command the sort of attention that will bring a big-name network to town, even on a Thursday night.
The handshake deals and East Coast following that allow Notre Dame into a BCS game with relative ease aren't there for BYU. Watching rival Utah get invited into the PAC-10 had to sting, but a move to independence makes no sense for BYU. It made no sense when the school rejected the idea four years ago. It makes less sense now, particularly given the MWC's strides toward garnering an automatic BCS slot or the Big 12's possible search for additional members in the wake of the Colorado and Nebraska exodus earlier this summer.
Hopefully, the silence out of the campus this week means the university has recognized the dangers before it became too late. The clothes may be off, but there's still time to avoid jumping in the cactus before Sept. 1.