By MASON B. NIEDERHAUSER
For many BYU sports fans, the idea of out with the old and in with the new is something they will have to get used to as BYU, along with seven other intermountain-area universities, leave the Western Athletic Conference to form the new Mountain West Conference.
Officially beginning July 1, the Cougars and others will bid farewell to the WAC, which has been their home for the past 36 years.
According to organizers of the MWC, the new conference was largely a result of practicality.
“It became evident to many of the presidents of the universities that the old conference wasn’t going to continue to work,” said Val Hale, BYU men’s associate athletic director.
With the old conference spread across four time zones, including schools from Texas and Hawaii, the WAC was anything but practical. Travel time and expenses were two big issues.
“Because of the geographic locations of the eight schools in the Mountain West Conference, travel costs for each school will be significantly reduced,” said Jim Andrus, MWC assistant commissioner of business affairs.
But practicality wasn’t the only issue, and MWC officials seem to realize the power of money. The possibility of big money television contracts was a key consideration.
Because athletic conferences are established in a way to allow each school an equal portion of a television contract, the WAC was dividing television revenues 16 ways, whereas a new conference with only eight schools could maximize that money much easier.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that splitting a sum of money by eight is better than splitting it by 16,” Andrus said.
With the recently announced ESPN football and basketball contract, the newly formed MWC will realize $48 million for eight years.
However, many at BYU feel the benefit derived from re-establishing geographic rivalries will outweigh any financial gains.
“The Mountain West Conference is a step in the right direction,” said BYU football head coach Lavell Edwards. “It will be like the old original WAC. Some of those rivalries go way back, and recently we’ve lost out on that.”
Although some have speculated that the new conference will make it more difficult to sign top recruits, Edwards disagrees.
“Recruiting is predicated on the success of a program, and the image you have. We won’t have any problems with that,” Edwards said.
The members of the Mountain West Conference will be BYU, Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, University of Utah and Wyoming.