This article is in response to a piece by MAC McIntosh, a fellow Torn By Sports contributor.
Conspiracy theories are fun. They turn innocent stories into episodes of 24 or the Sopranos. Mix in a heated college football rivalry, and conspiracy theories are downright irresistible. I love them as much as the next guy.
But given the nature of the BYU-Utah rivalry and my connection with Torn By Sports, I thought it was worth responding to my colleague’s little yarn about my BYU Cougars and their exit from the MWC.
For background, let me tell you MAC’s story about how BYU tried to sabotage the Mountain West Conference:
In a word-of-wisdom-friendly smoke-filled room somewhere between Logan and Provo, BYU officials met with the higher-ups from college football powerhouse Utah State to “tr[y] to kill” the Mountain West Conference. Evil laughs emanated from the back corner of an Olive Garden as the two schools “hatched a plan called ‘The Project,'” which aimed to lure San Diego State and UNLV to the WAC, thereby crippling–if not demolishing–the MWC. The meeting had somewhat of a Pinky and the Brain atmosphere, with BYU head honchos scheming to take over the college football world and Utah State agreeing to “do BYU’s bidding.”
Exactly what “The Project” entailed, or how USU was going to contribute, is unclear from MAC’s version of the story. Suffice it to say that with a few phone calls and emails, the two non-PAC-12 schools in Utah would convince the WAC to accept BYU’s non-football sports, lure the best teams out of the MWC, and squeal their tires away from the almost-great conference’s bloody corpse.
But in the eleventh hour, “The Project” was suddenly dismantled by a brilliant, heroic move by MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson, whereby he invited Fresno State and Nevada to join their former conference-mate Boise State in the MWC. Sensing a sinking ship n the WAC, the Bulldogs and Wolfpack rushed in to fill the void left by the departures of BYU, Utah, and TCU. Although he quickly put out the fires set by BYU’s selfish stunt, Thompson has been waiting for a chance to exact revenge on BYU. This week’s news that the ACC and the SEC would not consider BYU a “Power 5” school was just the chance Thompson needed to stick it to the Cougars.
See, that was fun, wasn’t it?
The mark of a great conspiracy theory is a few falsehoods strategically hidden amongst generally accepted truths. With a little bit of research, we can separate the truth from the fibs in MAC’s narrative.
“The Project” was a plan devised primarily by the WAC to convince BYU to park its non-football sports in the WAC. The plan involved imposing a hefty penalty ($5 million) on teams that bolted for greener pastures. This was a time of great unrest in college football, and several other conferences in danger of extinction–most notably the Big East–were doing the exact same thing. The WAC knew that BYU wasn’t interested in going someplace that would implode in a year or two, so it did what it had to do to incentivize teams to stay.
“The Project” was NOT, however, a plan to lure San Diego State, UNLV, or any other team from the MWC. BYU had no aims to destroy the conference it co-founded, and “The Project” had nothing to do with the MWC at all. Although MAC rails on BYU for not producing evidence to back up its stated reasons for leaving the MWC, glaringly missing from his tall tale about The Project is…wait for it…evidence. The story about BYU luring teams from the MWC are nothing but rumors, likely started by fans and columnist who have hated BYU long before college football started playing musical chairs.
(To learn more about “The Project,” read the Salt Lake Tribune’s piece here.)
These rumors certainly made it easier to blame BYU for the MWC’s near-implosion, despite Utah leaving the party first. When BYU declared independence, they were called spoiled brats who were taking their ball and going home, but when Utah practically renamed its school after its new conference, they were praised on the way out.
Make no mistake about it: Craig Thompson is a vindictive soul and he is reveling in this chance to take his contempt for BYU to the media by parroting the ACC and SEC lines about BYU. But this contempt predates “The Project.” Thompson has always resented BYU’s disproportionate influence in the Mountain West, so destroying the WAC by inviting Fresno State and Nevada was both self-preservation and sweet revenge.
But it was Thompson that planned–and accomplished–the annihilation of a conference, not BYU. To blame BYU for the MWC’s woes is nothing but conspiracy theories and revisionist history.