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Get the Picture, MWC: League Still Needs BYU

Anything you want, Big Blue.

Anything, that is, except independent status in football.

Wednesday night, at the outset of a teleconference held to discuss the Mountain West Conference’s addition of Nevada and Fresno State, MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said he’d returned to Colorado Springs in the wee hours that morning from Philadelphia.

Thompson had been in the City of Brotherly Love to meet with the Mountain West’s television partners, CBS and Comcast Cable. It largely was those talks, he said on the teleconference, that precipitated the league’s extension of brotherly love to Fresno State and Nevada later in the day.

“The TV package is part of it,” he said, noting that Comcast has a major presence in Fresno.

If Brigham Young University ever came up in Thompson’s discussions with the MWC’s television partners — specifically, speculation that BYU was poised to jilt the Mountain West for football independence and Western Athletic Conference membership in all other sports — he didn’t say so.

Yet, I kind of think it probably did.

Wednesday, the Mountain West threw a sizeable roadblock in BYU’s path when it raided the WAC for two of its stronger members. Thompson insisted the MWC wanted Fresno State and Nevada strictly for what they offered the conference; the timing makes that seem as plausible as UNM establishing a lacrosse program.

Are Nevada and Fresno State worthy additions? Certainly.

“I think they bring strong athletic programs and that they add depth to our conference,” UNM athletic director Paul Krebs said Thursday. “They’re reasonably sized TV markets, and I think they help stretch our footprint.”

Still, BYU’s gigantic footprints are all over the MWC’s  move on the WAC. But if the Mountain West wants to hold onto its most powerful overall program, maintain a presence in the Salt Lake City TV market (after Utah’s departure for the Pac-10) and stay within hailing distance of Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying status, more is needed.

It’s no secret that BYU has chafed under the revenue and exposure limitations of the Mountain West’s TV package; given that the MWC and its television partners still haven’t come to an agreement with DISH Network to air The Mtn., you might even call the Cougars’ dissatisfaction a chafing DISH.

Unlike its Mountain West brethren, BYU has its own TV network. It has its own high-definition TV facility; it has its own HD production truck. The Cougars would like to be free of The Mtn. ties that bind and mine BYU-TV for all it’s worth.

I’ve got to think the subject came up in Philadelphia.

The Mountain West somehow must persuade BYU that independent status in football is not necessary or advisable. To do that, Thompson, his board of directors and their TV partners must do for BYU what the Big 12 did for Texas: let the big dog eat more than the little dogs.

Wouldn’t that be unfair to Mountain West membership as a whole? What would be really unfair to that membership would be to let the Cougars get away without making every effort to keep them.

Who needs  ’em? Air Force, Colorado State, Wyoming, San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Boise State and even TCU do, that’s who. Fresno State and Nevada, too.

Thursday, in discussing his league’s loss of Fresno State and Nevada, WAC Commissioner Karl Benson all but swore vengeance. Those schools’ secession has temporarily short-circuited the WAC’s courtship of BYU, but rest assured the WAC will try to reload.

For the WAC, having BYU as a league member in every sport but football makes sense. Already having lost Boise State to the Mountain West, the WAC has no realistic BCS prospects.

For the Mountain West, such an arrangement would be folly — not that the MWC would consider it. Automatic BCS qualifying status is the league’s white whale, its most cherished goal. Without BYU as a football-playing member, the MWC is a BCS minnow.

Making BYU happy enough to stay could be a whale of a task. The addition of Fresno State and Nevada is a mixed blessing, since it means league revenue will be cut up into smaller pieces.

Somehow, Thompson & Co. must sharpen BYU’s TV picture — while persuading the Cougars that sharing bowl revenue with its conference pals is still the right thing to do.

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