I'll have more on this move, it's impact on basketball, and the Mountain West's countermove after the jump.
Per the Salt Lake Tribune, the Cougars' return to their old league has been in the works for the past month,(with the media only learning of the plan Tuesday night). This is despite BYU's role in forcing the split in the old 16-team WAC that led to the creation of the Mountain West Conference back in 1999.
So, starting with the 2011-12 academic year, the Cougars will likely become the fourth BCS school to pursue an independent path in college sports' biggest revenue generator, joining Notre Dame. Army, and Navy.
Those three schools are independents for different reasons. BYU officials are following the Fighting Irish's lead as opposed to the service academies', betting that the nation's Mormon population will help the Cougars become the "Notre Dame of the West."
For more information on the financial implications of this move, check out Jeremy Mauss' post on the subject at Mountain West Connection.
The football motives are all well and good, but this is a college basketball blog. Even though this is a football-driven move, there will naturally be an impact on hoops, especially given on how the MWC and WAC fall just below major conference status.
For starters, the moves aren't exactly over. A little after 5:30 p.m. ET, the Mountain West Conference sent out a tweet indicating that they've responded to BYU's departure.
The Mountain West Conference has extended an offer of membership to California State University, Fresno and the University of Nevada, Reno.
If these offers are accepted, here is how the two conferences will stack up for basketball.
San Diego State
Remember that the Mountain West is already losing Utah to the Pac-12 after this year. Sure, the Utes weren't very good last season, but they've been a regular NCAA team.
New Mexico State
San Jose State
Now these rosters aren't totally set in stone.The Salt Lake Tribune article on the BYU move mentions that Boise State could conceivably return to the WAC now that the two Utah schools look to be gone. BSU wouldn't have to pay a financial penalty to the MWC if they change their mind (conversely, Nevada and Fresno State would owe the WAC $5 million if they bolt). Plus, you'd expect the WAC to expand past seven.
Yet, even if the conference does grab a couple of Big Sky schools, it won't make much of a difference, as the MWC would still remain a better basketball loop. In fact, the relative strengths of the conferences would remain mostly the same, just with shuffled memberships.
In the case of the WAC, the top actually gets a bit stronger, as BYU, New Mexico State, and Utah State have great tradition, and all three made it to the NCAA Tournament in 2010. However, the other four teams haven't exactly set the hoops world on fire. Quick? Name the last time any of the other four made the NCAAs?
Your answer: Hawai'i in 2002. Idaho, Louisiana Tech, and San Jose State are 0-for-the millennium.
The Cougars had better hope that they can augment their football TV deals with some opportunities for their basketball team. BYU will need to schedule A LOT of marquee non-conference games to built up their national prestige and RPI in the event they don't win the league title. Thanks to a 12-game league schedule, they'll have ample opportunity.
On the other hand, you can expect the Mountain West to remain as top-heavy as ever. The conference would retain New Mexico, UNLV, and San Diego State --three consistent postseason performers over the past few seasons -- while picking up Nevada, a team who made the NCAAs four times in the middle part of the decade.
But the teams who haven't struggled lately remain, and they'll be joined by Boise State and Fresno State, two clubs with a combined three NCAA bids since the year 2000 (with only one since 2001). This league won't be sending half of its membership to the Dance anytime soon.
If these moves are completed, Selection Sundays shouldn't change much for these two conferences. The WAC will perhaps have a more consistent shot at two bids in any given season, while the Mountain West will struggle to grab more than three, even with 10 members.