Ryan Teeples: Independence, competitiveness and the money: Dispelling myths about Independence

Part II of Ryan Teeples look at BYU Football Independence

Last week we published an article explaining why Independence is the only course for BYU to remain viable in college football. We discussed these factors:

  1. BYU looks like a P5 school in revenue numbers, even making over 10 million less in TV revenue than even the low-paid Pac-12 schools
  2. BYU’s TV revenues will increase in the new contract. ESPN wouldn’t have picked up the option for 2019 if it thought the deal would improve for them. In fact, BYU’s deal was negotiated at the very beginning of the rise in value for CFB. Next contract will be significantly more
  3. G5 schools only exist due to extremely heavy subsidies by state governments into athletics, in most cases more than 50% of the operating budgets
  4. The model is broken and signs of cracking can be seen. If schools stop getting billions from state governments G5 school athletics disintegrate

Now, let’s look at this from another angle. Some BYU fans wish to attribute the Cougars’ on-field woes last year to Independence. They aren’t quite certain why keeping BYU’s revenues up is so vitally important to its longevity. They would sacrifice significant revenue for a chance at a conference title or a different bowl tie-in.

Let’s say you believe the dole will continue for G5 schools and states will continue to pour tens of millions of dollars into each school’s athletics at an accelerated rate, and believe BYU should band with them.

There is no scenario where BYU can go back to a non-P5 conference and keep its TV revenue. Again, Boise State is getting a pittance and even that has its conference brethren upset. There’s no scenario where BYU gets back into a G5 and keeps the many millions more TV revenue it gets and millions more it will get in the future. No matter how you slice it, any G5 scenario comes with a 75%+ pay cut.

Myth #1: BYU independence is causing poor on-field performance

Some argue BYU should be willing to take that pay cut to get into a conference. After all, success isn’t measured in dollars and cents. It’s measured by a combination of performance in competition, prominence nationally and fan contentment. So is there something to be gained by joining a conference that outweighs the revenue loss?

First off, BYU’s athletic performance isn’t related to is independent status. Fans love to make this argument, but there is absolutely no evidence to support it. There is definitely correlation: BYU was awful in football last year and was also an independent. But that’s not causation. Trying to argue as much will get you laughed out of any room of experienced analysts.

Rutgers has poorer rankings, records, recruiting rankings and fan attendance since joining the Big Ten. Shall we assume joining that conference is the cause of these issues and argue the Scarlet Knights should leave the Big Ten and its $50 million a year in TV monies?

Of course not. If you’re pedaling this snake oil of a mental exercise, you might want to do so privately lest your employer see it and question your ability to elucidate. There are literally hundreds of factors that affect those performance metrics and independence is only one—one which you’ll find is actually a critically-positive influence as you read on.

Myth #2: Recruiting is hurt by Independence

Let’s take talent as an example. BYU’s average recruiting class rank under Bronco Mendenhall in the MWC from 2004 to 2010 was #62. That also includes its highest ranking ever in the Jake Heaps year. BYU’s average recruiting class ranking in independence 2011 to 2016 is #63. It’s not getting worse until you add losing to the mix in 2017.

Independence isn’t negatively impacting the input into the program. So what caused last year’s poor on-field output?

Myth #3: BYU doesn’t need independence money to succeed

Those close to the program will tell you BYU’s performance issues the last two years have been heavily influenced by inexperienced and unqualified coaching at the position level. BYU spent a lot of money in 2015 on its head coach. But the money never trickled down to the very end of the coaching ladder in terms of assistants and position coaches.

So Sitake, Holmoe, and co. went out and spent the cash required to get very experienced and highly qualified offensive coaches from top to bottom this year and expects the results on the field to be swift.

If the athletic department isn’t generating the TV revenue it is, that money doesn’t materialize and the coaching stays underqualified. There are no buyouts to replace Detmer. There’s no recruiting of SEC-experienced coaches. In G5, you get money for G5 coaches or guys with no experience at this level.

As a private religious institution, BYU doesn’t have a government teat to suckle. It must earn what it spends. To be competitive, BYU needs good coaching. To get good coaching it needs money. That money isn’t there in a G5 conference. How likely do you think BYU is to get an additional seven figures for new coaches (when it’s already paying seven figures for fired coaches) going back to the Board of Trustees?

Myth #4: Fan interest is declining, evidenced by game attendance

Sigh. Yes, it’s true BYU’s game-day attendance numbers are down in independence. You know who else has this problem? Nearly every program in the country.

ESPN recently released its 2017 ranking numbers and attendance at games dipped again for the fourth straight year.

In fact, the numbers nationally fell over 3% on average. BYU’s aren’t out-pacing that. Win, and the small attrition issue evaporates.

Myth #5: BYU has nothing to play for after the second game

Technically, this isn’t a myth. It’s a gross overgeneralization, but there’s some truth to it. If and when BYU loses three games in its first six, the post-season is all but set and the games don’t matter.

But they mattered for BYU all year in 2017 just for getting bowl eligible. BYU is no Notre Dame, but there are plenty of years they’ve been down by game five and somehow their fans didn’t seem to worry about motivation.

Besides, would you rather have “nothing to play for” in a program that has viability and stability or have a “meaningful” game in Laramie in November played on CBS Sports in a league that’s only subsisting in an environment that’s got rumblings of crumbling?

You also assume the bowl picture today will be the bowl picture of tomorrow. In 2020 many of the automatic tie-ins to conferences are up. At that time BYU will negotiate with ESPN as a partner for a multiple-bowl arrangement where the Cougars might have tiered options depending on performance. This makes the end-of-season outcome less monotonous and brings meaning to every game.

And if your program needs a reason for games to have meaning, your issues are in other areas related to competitiveness and the factors discussed above.

When it all boils down, fans are simply frustrated with on-field performance. Without knowledge of the ins and outs of the variables or capacity to process them, it’s easy to blame a prominent attribute of the program like Independence.

But it’s multi-faceted and complex and the truth is, short of P5 only independence brings the revenue and positioning necessary to sustain success in football.

Whether you realize it or not, if you want G5 for BYU, you don’t want BYU to succeed financially or competitively.

To Top