The BYU Cougars left the Mountain West to go the independent path with the hopes of making more money, exposure and just maybe land in a power conference. The first two they have achieved by earning a lot more money than they did in the Mountain West and have a nice television deal with ESPN.
The third goal was always designed to get them into the Big 12 but those talks, or lack there of, have not gotten the Cougars closer to being in a big time conference.
Simmering in the background was the fact that the Big 12 wants to stay at 10 teams and still host a conference title game. BYU's chances of going to the Big 12 have been based on that if the conference wants a title game that they need two more teams, and the Cougars bring a lot to the table.
A big piece of bad news towards BYU making the leap to the Big 12 was thwarted as CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd is reporting that a change to the conference title format could change as early as the 2016 season, including relaxing the 12-team rule to host a conference title game.
There is one small hurdle of the oversight committee would vet the legislation and pass on any recommendations to the NCAA Council for final approval. That seems more of a formality more than anything.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was confident all along that this adjustment to the rule would be passed.
"This isn't really changing the [conference championship game] rule, it's deregulating," Bowlsby told CBSSports.com. "It's moving a little bit slow but I don't think it's stalled in any way."
If the Big 12 were to now expand they would need to bring in a pair of schools that could provide a combine $40 million per year in revenue. Despite how big BYU is they don't bring in that kind of money and neither does any team out there who is not already in a power conference.
With the Big 12 now not needing to add two teams to host a lucrative conference title game, that leaves BYU with few options. They can stay independent, go the Mountain West or even the, even if for just football only.
BYU fans swear they will never go back to the Mountain West and even if joining a non-power league they prefer the American which is essentially the same as the Mountain West in terms of overall competition. However, BYU is doing quite well in scheduling big time games with Nebraska, UCLA, USC, Missouri, LSU, Arizona, Michigan State and plenty of others.
It has been said plenty of times that it will take a lot for BYU to go back to the Mountain West. BYU is already proving independence is gong well for them with the money and opponents they are able to play, but their on the field performance has struggled a bit to get enough marque wins to be considered for the new college playoff or even New Year's Day Bowl game.
The big test for BYU to remain independent over joining the Mountain West is seeing the Cougars have a better season compared to the representative from the group of five and then being left out of a big money bowl game. Boise State was 11-2 and made it to the Fiesta Bowl as the auto-bid, but would even a 11-1 BYU team with a tough schedule even get an at-large bid?
If BYU keeps having better, or even similar, record and gets left out of a big money bowl game then that could possibly begin the thinking that the Cougars may want to head back to the Mountain West. Also include that BYU is scheduling up and their 11-1 record could be better than a 13-0 Mountain West or American champion who go to a New Year's Day bowl game.
No doubt it would upset BYU if they have great years with a tougher schedule and still getting left out of a big money bowl game. The Cougars have yet to have one of those seasons, so they are perfectly content as of now to win seven to nine games, be on ESPN and make more money than they ever have for football.
Another hurdle is the money and exposure. Those are two of the biggest reasons that BYU left -- the top was clearly Utah getting an invite to form the Pac-12. The television contract has improved with much more games on ESPN but there is still a lot on CBS Sports Network and a few on ROOT Sports. However, the league could make a deal similar to Boise State where five of their home games could be on an ESPN platform and then have on be on BYUtv.
Money is also an issue but with more inventory and a marquee name back in the league would boost the revenue to each team and get the Cougars the same exposure and even more money. Another team would needed to be added to get to 14, but that is a topic for another day but UTEP makes the most sense.
Finally, egos would need to be removed if this were to ever happen. If Craig Thompson were able to get BYU back in the league it should be done, not at all costs, but something would have to be done. BYU would need to forgive the Mountain West for ruining their move to the WAC for non-revenue sports, and the Mountain West needs to forgive that BYU tried to leave in a covert manner.
BYU already has games scheduled against most of the Mountain West for football in Hawaii, UNLV, Nevada, Fresno State, San Jose State and Utah State. Looking more closely these are teams of the former WAC and new Mountain West teams, but UNLV is somewhat of an exception since their history with BYU and the Mountain West began in 1998.
BYU might be comfortable scheduling big name opponents, playing in bowl games, playing on ESPN, and making good money over joining the Mountain West which provides an easier path to a big money bowl game.
If the Mountain West were ever to want to bring back BYU to the league now is the time to open up dialog with the Cougars since joining a power five conference seems all but dead.