August 18, 2010: Just when the dust appears to be settling in conference realignment, word leaks that Brigham Young University planned to leave the Mountain West, going independent in football and joining the WAC for all other sports. Then came rumors that UNLV and San Diego State would bolt for the WAC in all sports, spurring the Mountain West to counter in the afternoon with invitations to Fresno State and Nevada. The Bulldogs and Wolf Pack accepted later that evening, leaving the WAC reeling just hours after it appeared the league would pull off a historic coup.
Two weeks later, BYU would indeed depart the Mountain West, announcing its non-football sports would instead move to the West Coast Conference. At the beginning, the Cougars’ independent schedule was a hodge-podge. They had a loose alliance with the WAC, a remnant from their original negotiations with the league. In 2011, BYU faced New Mexico State, Utah State, Idaho, San Jose State and Hawaii, winning all five games. The Cougars played four BCS schools. The slate improved markedly from 2012 on (that’s when BYU’s current 11-game home-and-home series with BYU began). Independence ends next year when BYU joins the Big 12.
The BYU move was understandably disappointing to Boise State, which had just been invited to the Mountain West two months earlier. Utah had accepted an invitation to what is now the Pac-12 at the same time, and the MW would hang on to TCU for just one more year before the Horned Frogs bolted for the Big 12. The Broncos’ intense series with the Cougars has been consolation, but that has just one game to go.
BYU’s pivot was the beginning of the end for WAC football. In 2013, the conference lost Utah State and San Jose State to the MW, Hawaii followed as a football-only member, and gridiron was gone. There has been a slew of membership changes since. The only school remaining in the WAC from Boise State’s days is New Mexico State. But the Aggies are headed for Conference USA next year. This fall, the WAC plays its first football season in 10 years at the FCS level. The participating teams: Abilene Christian, Sam Houston State, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton and Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State).
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)