After two weeks of rollercoaster rumors, Brigham Young University dropped a bombshell on the Mountain West Conference late Tuesday afternoon by announcing it will leave the league next year.
BYU will become an independent in football while competing in all other sports as a member of the West Coast Conference. In mid-August, BYU had said it would leave the Mountain West to go independent in football with other sports in the Western Athletic Conference. But when the Mountain West responded by taking Fresno State and Nevada from the WAC, Brigham Young's plans changed.
It had appeared that BYU officials might decide to remain in the Mountain West with an improved TV deal for football, but in the end that didn't happen. BYU had to inform the Mountain West by Sept. 1 if it planned to leave 12 months later.
Losing the Mormon university, at the same time that Utah leaves for the Pacific 10, will be a major blow to the Mountain West — unless it responds by adding another Utah member, perhaps Utah State, to regain a presence in the Salt Lake City-area media market.
This will leave the Mountain West with 10 members in 2011-12. There was no word if the league would stay at that level or add two more and, with 12 schools, create a conference championship game in football.
BYU officials planned a news conference Wednesday to discuss the decision. Meanwhile, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson released the following statement from the league's Colorado Springs office:
"Since its inception, the Mountain West Conference has worked strategically to grow and strengthen the league, in order to position itself at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics. Our Board of Directors' diligent exploration of options to advance the membership's objectives is ongoing. This includes conversations with our television partners to address issues of mutual importance, as well as determining the optimal configuration for the Conference and investigating the possibility of various collaborative alliances. We look forward to the future with great excitement — particularly welcoming recent additions Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada into the Mountain West."