A lot can and has been said about competition, bowl game tie-ins, recruiting, and geographical rivalries. But putting all of these factors aside, only BYU can place itself into a position to do that by scheduling and defeating nationally ranked teams consistently. That's the only way the Cougars will secure their place among the elite of college football.
With conference expansion now seemingly on the tip of every college football fan's tongue, a growing divide has emerged among serious, knowledgeable BYU fans. One camp envision the Cougars a better fit in the Big XII conference while another following prefer the geographic familiarity of the PAC-10.
Despite all this idle speculation, we should not forget BYU has not sniffed the scent of an invitation from either conference.
Indeed the PAC-10 camp received a significant endorsement in Artie Gigantino's weekly column on Fox Sports News yesterday:
"I suggest the PAC-10 strongly look at BYU and Utah. They are close in proximity, have excellent academic credentials and are blessed with great fan bases, especially BYU. The wide-open styles of offense would be similar to the West Coast offenses run in the PAC-10. BYU, with its sold-out home games in LaVell Edwards Stadium (65,000), is one of the best college football settings in America.
"I can see it now, the first Saturday in December 2004, 6:00 p.m., the inaugural PAC-10 championship football game being played at Pac Bell Park, and 45,000 are expected for this matchup between BYU and Washington," Gigantino added.
One knock against the PAC-10 involves the perceived East Coast bias that prevents the conference from playing on a level playing field with other BCS conferences.
Another writer suggests "BYU would avoid much of the apparent 'East Coast bias' from being in the PAC-10. Nationally, a 'Big XII contender' is generally taken more seriously than a 'PAC-10 contender.'"
Yet, reviewing the bowl history of the BCS since its inception indicates the PAC-10 has placed seven teams into one of the four major bowls. Compare this to the number of teams other BCS conferences have placed in BCS games:
* Big 10: 8 teams
* SEC: 7 teams
* Big XII: 6 teams
* ACC: 6 teams
* Big East: 5 teams
The aforementioned facts illustrate that despite perceptions of bias, the PAC-10 has been represented in BCS bowl games as well, if not better, than most conferences.
Perhaps the biggest misconception that has surfaced during the conference expansion hype revolves around how BYU can expand its geographic recruiting base by joining the Big XII.
UCLA basketball coach, Ben Howland, was recently asked about what he foresees in recruiting PAC-10 country. Howland stated he grew up in Southern California, and he had close ties to several people in the area. He discussed the difficulties he ran into in trying to expand Pitt's recruiting base. He then mentioned that the Southern Californian kids he could never get to Pitt, were now his to lose. Howland stated coaches have to depend on local products to succeed. In relation to the UCLA job, he explained that West Coast kids want to play on the West Coast. They grow up with the PAC-10 and they want to play against PAC-10 opponents.
While UCLA benefits from playing in a large metropolitan area BYU does not have the luxury of relying solely on local talent in football to compete nationally.
However, BYU's LDS Church ties provides a unique national recruiting base and it must continue to capitalize on that.
A review of some of BYU's recent LDS recruits illustrates the influence the PAC-10 has on the Cougars.
* High School All American quarterback Ben Olson narrowed his collegiate choices to Stanford, UCLA and BYU.
* Top 100 national recruit Jake Kuresa selected BYU over Oregon, USC and Washington.
* All American everything recruit Ofa Mohetau selected BYU over Arizona State, Miami and Texas.
* Top 20 recruit Haloti Ngata signed with Oregon after giving a verbal to BYU.
* Carl Tuitavuki signed with Arizona State after he initially committed to the Cougars.
* Quarterback Danny Southwick is now playing at Oregon State, after signing with BYU out of high school.
* John Beck was wooed by Washington and Arizona State at length before he arrived in Provo.
* This year, BYU lured top Utah prospects Brian Soi, Jason Speredon and Dallas Reynolds to Provo with their stiffest competition coming from PAC-10 schools.
Indeed, BYU has had and lost more recruiting battles to the PAC-10 than any other conference. The majority of recruits BYU targets are going to come from the West and as a result have a PAC-10 background. If Gary Crowton can smooth talk high profile players like Soi, Olson and Mohetau to ink with the Cougars of the MWC, imagine what Crowton et al would do with the backing of PAC-10 conference affiliation's cash and clout.
From a non LDS member perspective, more non-member recruits would be more interested in BYU with an affiliation in either conference.
The PAC-10, unlike the Big XII, needs to expand if the ACC expansion goes through. Financially, the PAC-10 would benefit from opening up in new markets, along with the windfall from a championship game.
From a television standpoint, BYU would be a major bargaining chip for the PAC-10 in contract negotiations. Deserved or not, the BYU name carries national clout and is embedded into college football history due to years of success. These intangibles BYU brings to the PAC-10 table cannot be duplicated by any research institutions.
If game attendance is used to determine the pulse of a conference, then BYU is a no-brainer. The PAC-10 has to be concerned with recent attendance trends from its conference members. Last year, the average attendance of a PAC-10 home game was 49,691. This average ranks a disappointing 5th among the BCS conferences. Only the doomed Big East ranked lower in attendance. Not surprising, the Mountain West Conference was the best mid-major conference, averaging 15,000 fewer fans than the PAC-10.
Last year, during its worst season in 29 years, BYU still managed to average 62,176 fans per home game. This placed BYU's attendance as the fourth highest among Western teams. Over the past decade, BYU ranks second in average attendance for western schools behind the University of Washington.
While this statistic should grab the PAC-10's attention, a better statistic revolves around BYU's road attendance. Consistently, BYU has increased the home attendance average for opponents. This attendance average increases dramatically when BYU plays in the West. The last time BYU played in a PAC-10 state was in San Diego on October 2001. San Diego has averaged 22,518 fans per home game, but drew an increased 30,064 fans (season high) for the BYU game.
Last year, BYU approached PAC-10 country by playing Nevada in Reno in September. UNR averaged 18,842 fans last season per home game. Against BYU, they drew 23,109 -- also a season high. Between the two games, BYU increased the attendance for the home teams by 28%.
The potential attendance increase BYU offers the PAC-10 is directly related to the Church's membership in PAC-10 states. Based on a 1990 Church membership report, the seven states with the highest LDS populations were listed in the following order:
Taking out Utah and Idaho, the two states not represented by a BCS conference, it is telling to see four PAC-10 states represent four of the five states with large LDS populations.
These facts and figures confirm the PAC-10 stands to benefit as much as BYU as a conference member. Utah also deserves a PAC-10 invitation with their excellent basketball program and research-related entities. Moreover, they serve as a great travel partner for the Cougars with great facilities.
Each team in the PAC-10 has a natural rival: Cal vs. Stanford; ASU vs. Arizona; USC vs. UCLA; Oregon vs. OSU; and UW vs. WSU. BYU vs. Utah makes just as much sense. The travel for BYU makes sense. It is much easier for BYU to travel to PAC-10 venues than Lubbock, Columbus, Ames, College Station, Austin, and Norman for road games.
If BYU's goal is to participate in the BCS, the decision to move to the PAC-10 is a no brainer.
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