Cougars bid farewell to Mountain West Conference

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Thursday officially marks BYU’s last day as part of the Mountain West Conference.

Starting Friday, BYU will be an independent in football, while joining the West Coast Conference in other sports. It appears it is time for BYU to move on after 12 years in the conference — and many more in the Western Athletic Conference with a number of rival schools the Cougars are leaving behind in the MWC.

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BYU QB Jake Heaps aviods a tackle from SDSU DB Marcus Andrews on Saturday in LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The MWC, which is the youngest conference in the NCAA’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, was established in 1999. BYU withdrew from the Western Athletic Conference that same year to join the MWC. Since joining, BYU has enjoyed nearly 119 conference championships in more than 11 different sports.

Karrie Grover, a junior from Fayetteville, N.Y., studying geology, said she feels good about BYU leaving behind the MWC.

“I think that it’s going to give us more opportunities,” Grover said. “I’ve heard that now we’re going to be on ESPN and play bigger teams like Notre Dame. So I think that it’s really big for BYU to be seen and to be more of an example. People will actually get to know who we are now.”

The BYU football team’s first five games will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2 next season, and two more games (against TCU and at Hawaii) have already been picked up by ESPN networks. Last month, ESPN signed an eight-year deal with the West Coast Conference for men’s basketball. The contract requires a minimum of 48 appearances on ESPN’s various networks per year.

The BYU men and women’s swimming and diving teams have contributed 16 total championships over the past 12 years. They have been among the many BYU sports teams that have embodied success during the years in the MWC.

Because the West Coast Conference does not sponsor swimming and diving, the Cougars found a home in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, which has been the home of the BYU men’s volleyball team.

Coach Tim Powers said he was proud of the swimming and diving team’s past and optimistic about its future.

“We had a lot of success. We always dominated the conference, it seemed, and the kids were scholar athletes,” Powers said.

He said he believed the heightened level of competition in the MWC helped contribute to his highly skilled swimming and diving teams.

“With the girls we won nine out of 12 championships,” Powers said. “And with the new conference there’s going to be about nine men’s teams and 11 women’s teams. That’s going to be a good situation. I just think it will increase our visibility.”

The Cougars also had to find new homes for softball (WAC) and indoor track and field (MPSF). The outdoor track and field teams will compete as independents.

However, not everyone is optimistic about independence. Brock Solomon, an 18-year-old freshman studying biochemistry, said he wasn’t so sure BYU was at a good enough level yet. He pointed to Notre Dame, which in recent years has remained independent and has not been as dominant.

Solomon did say he thinks the new conference would be a benefit for the BYU basketball team.

As BYU leaves behind what is viewed by many to be a mid-major conference, students, such as Andrew Grisson, a 23-year-old business management major from Easley, S.C., remain confident about the Cougars’ future.

“BYU’s going to have the opportunity to expose the talent they’ve already had and play a lot of teams that they haven’t played in times past,” Grisson said. “I think BYU is not only at the level and standard they need to be on to compete in a new conference, but I think they have the energy and the talent to really allow themselves to be made known.”

Grisson said BYU fans have a lot to look forward to.

“Not only are we driving upward in our talent, we’re also attracting more talent,” Grisson said. “Success brings success.”

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