BYU doesn’t care about conference championships. They haven’t for the last several decades, and they’re not going to start now.
This week, Scout.com writer Pete Fiutak made BYU Twitter’s collective head explode when he wrote the following in his 2015 BYU Football preview:
Independent for the last three seasons, things have worked out okay. BYU has had some laughs, killed some time, and it’s going through life playing college football, but for what?
What fun is going through the exercise with no carrot at the end of the stick? BYU as [sic] to go at least 11-1 and hope to get the Notre Dame-like benefit of the playoff doubt, so with no conference championship to play for, one loss makes it tough to shoot for the stars, and two losses means the season is effectively over.
He followed up this take by joining Spencer Linton and Michael Alisa on BYU Sports Nation, where he told BYU fans that G5 conference championships are worth more than post-season top 25 rankings.
I get it. Conferences have been exalted in college football. College football fans and writers have been indoctrinated since birth with the idea that what teams you’ve banded with directly reflects on the quality of your program. And when you happen to be in a Power 5 conference, winning the conference championship means you go to a big bowl that wins you a lot of respect and pays your conference a lot of money. It’s natural for guys like Pete to think a lack of a conference identity is a crisis for a football program.
But what does a G5 conference championship do for a team? A quick look at BYU’s history in “mid-major” conferences shows that the answer is: not much.
BYU has spent the better part of four decades racking up conference titles. In the 24 years directly preceding BYU’s exit from the WAC to found the Mountain West Conference, BYU won at least a share of 18 conference championships. At one point, BYU won 10 straight league titles. The Cougars slowed down a bit in the more competitive MWC, but still won 4 championships in their 13 years in that league. (In case you thought that’s not a lot, it’s exactly the number of MWC championships Utah and TCU won before being invited to the PAC-12 and Big XII, respectively). All in all, in the last four decades, BYU has averaged a conference championship every other year.
So Pete will forgive BYU fans if we don’t get giddy at the thought of winning another G5 title. BYU’s been there, done that, and literally got the t-shirt. And yet they remain on the outside of the college football power structure looking in.
For teams like Memphis, East Carolina, and Northern Illinois, who don’t have the history of winning that BYU does, conference championships are certainly a good, tangible way of marking a program’s progress. It gives the players something to be proud of and the fans something to boast. But those are marks BYU has been making for years, and now they are trying to take the next step.
National prominence–not conference dominance–is BYU’s goal. Beating teams that no one’s heard of does nothing to get the attention of football fans and pundits, but being ranked puts a team on the map. Rankings are the pulse of college football, representing a weekly evaluation of the entire sport. Being on that list means you’re getting people’s attention. Just about every college football fan keeps a close eye on the top 25 rankings, but hardly any monitor the G5 standings. And at the end of the year, from a national perspective, the rankings are the gold standard of the strength of a program.
So Mr. Fiutak can continue writing that BYU is constantly a loss or two from an exhibition season (by the way, he wrote the exact same thing last year), but the fact remains that G5 membership and G5 championships will never get BYU where it wants to go. Only playing–and beating–the best teams on the biggest stages will get them there. And since, for now, independence is the only way to do that, it’s “Indy or Bust” for the BYU Cougars.
Put that on a t-shirt.