Life Outside the Big Ten: Can BYU Really Be Notre Dame West? (UPDATED)

It may seem hard to believe, but they play football outside of the Midwest on occasion. Sure, most of the time it’s like RC Cola – not as good as the real thing while still remaining a workable thirst-quencher when the good stuff isn’t available – but it’s there nonetheless. Anyway, I thought I’d occasionally take the opportunity to discuss the goings-on outside the Mother Conference.

Over at, Stewart Mandel asks the question and continues:

While BYU will never be coveted by BCS bowls to the same degree as the Irish, it might be able to accomplish many of the same goals (more TV money, better exposure) by freeing itself from the shackles of an eight-game conference schedule and The Mtn.

The key word in that sentence, of course, is “might.”

I’m only speaking from the point of view as a Buckeye ex-pat now living on the eastern edge of MWC territory, but I think it might be a little more realistic to replace “might” with “probably won’t” in that sentence.

The only reason Notre Dame has so much TV exposure is because they have a huge fan base nationwide. Why this is, here in 2010, is beyond me but we’ll stipulate that’s the case. They’re like the Cowboys of NCAA football, only if the Cowboys had been vacillating between 8-8 and 5-11 for the past twenty years.

BYU has a lot of fans outside of Utah as well, but the same could be said for any major college football program. From a strictly demographic standpoint,there are only about 5.6 million Mormons in the United States, compared to 66 million Catholics. Numbers were changed from the original post – see the update at the bottom. – Ed. Not every Mormon is a fan of BYU – I know several who absolutely hate them because they’re Utes fans – and not every BYU fan is a Mormon. But I’ll go out on a limb and say most BYU fans are Mormons. At the very least, I’d bet that Notre Dame has a much higher percentage of their fan base who are non-Catholic than BYU does with non-Mormons. So it’s a lot more apples and oranges than it would appear on its face. It would be like asking “Can the Cincinnati Reds be the next Yankees?” because their games have a very healthy share of the TV ratings in Cincinnati.

For that reason alone, I think there’s no way BYU gets anything resembling Notre Dame’s deal with NBC. As Mandel states, it’s possible that they’ll get a bit more money going on their own than they’d get from the MWC, but would the additional revenue be worth the scheduling nightmares that would surely ensue were the Cougars to go independent in football?

Note – I’ll leave it to you to laugh among yourselves about a Mormon university sharing a mascot name with types like Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City.

On the other hand, if BYU stays in the MWC, they’d be in an up-and-coming conference that still includes Boise State, TCU, Air Force, Wyoming, and has just added Fresno State and Nevada to the mix. The way thing have gone the last few years, there’s a significant chance that – even after losing Utah to the Pac-12 – the Mountain West will be on the upswing and potentially even garner an automatic bid to the BCS when they re-evaluate conferences. Would BYU be willing to throw that away for a little more money? That remains to be seen, I guess.

update – I edited the post to reflect the Census Bureau’s numbers for total voluntary self-reported religious affiliation in the United States (66,404,000 Catholics to 5,691,000 Mormons.) Originally I used the number of adults identifying with a certain religion as reported by the American Religious Identification Survey (46 million Catholics to 2.5 million Mormons.) Please note that these data are (and were) able to be found by clicking on the little red bit of text that reads “a strictly demographic standpoint“. Nevertheless it did change the ratio of Catholics to Mormons from 18.6 to 11.4 – so while it didn’t exactly change the point that I was making, prudence demanded that I made sure no one left this site thinking I didn’t do my homework.


  1. The 2008 Pew Forum survey found that 1.7% of adult americans are Mormons. The 2010 Census found that there are 309,000,000 Americans.

    1.7% of 300,000,0000 is 5,100,000 Mormons.

    The Church actually claims 6,000,000 American Mormons.

    The 2,500,000 figure seems pretty low.


  2. Fair enough. The numbers I was using were adults. I didn’t see the total self-reported number just above it. My bad. I have edited the post to reflect that.

    Not that it changes the point any. 5,691,000 is still much, much less than 66,404,000 (total Catholic membership – I used the adult data in the post for that too)

    But thanks for pointing that out.

  3. but …..there are only like 225k members of the US ARMY and they are independent. lol just kidding .

    I think it can easily be dismissed by the avg CFB fan of any school when you discuss BYU going independent. But this isnt something they just thought up last week or even last month. They started discussing it back in 2007 if not earlier. BYU hasnt been happy in the MWC and the television package as can be seen by the fact that Utah and BYU sued the MWC to force them to get on satelite and other cable companies.

    I as a member of the church and a fan of the school will readily admit we dont have a fan base the size of Notre Lame or most big time programs……. BUT…… will they ever be able to get that size fan base if they stay in the MWC? Dont think Utah leaving will be the last it is only a matter of time before TCU bolts to Big 12 and BSU bolts to PAC 12 and so on.

    BYU as a school and a football team is completely different than any other in CFB. I personally wouldnt be surprised if the Churches leaders arent using this team as a form of getting the churches name in a posistive light in different areas of the US. Imagine being able to go inde and one week you are in Florida and for the whole week the local news and print guys are talking about the teams members being married and going on missions and how they live their lives…. and then the next week they are in the NY area doing the same thing and then in the midwest and so on.

    One thing I know for sure my church isnt afraid to use all its available resources for Public Relations and to turn every oppurtunity into a missionary moment.

    At a school like BYU winning isnt the most important thing for the football program but rather the end result of doing things the right way at least as they see it.

    I doubt they will be able to go independent now that the MWC screwed over the WAC and ruined the agreement that BYU had with the WAC.

    As a fan of BYU I am fine with staying in the MWC and I would have been fine with going inde.

    Like the old saying goes “There is no such thing as bad press” and for sure BYU has gotten a ton of press this week and has people talking about the school and the team and the religion. So it is a win win for all of them.

  4. SYR – yeah, I think the Fresno State and Nevada defection pretty much killed that idea, at least until, as you said, the biggies start realigning again.

    Which only adds weight to the point I was trying to make. Please understand (and maybe I should have put this in bold text at the top of the post) I’m not saying that BYU is inferior because they’re not Notre Dame. Far from it. Their football team has been consistently better than the Irish for a while. I’m just saying that if someone expected them to get a similar kind of deal to ND, that someone is probably smoking crack.

    But I hadn’t considered the other angles you brought up. It actually makes a lot more sense if trying to get a bit more national face time is one of the goals of this, for outreach purposes of the church and not necessarily the university. I looked at it more from a business angle. As Clooney said in Ocean’s Thirteen, it’s always about the money. (I’m paraphrasing here so if I got the quote wrong, sorry)

    Also, the Army has a little over a million members, active and reserve. The 225k figure seems a little low.


  5. Who counts reserves lol….OSU has 85 scholorship players not the 165 you see on the sidelines during home games lol.

    On a side note in the end I can 100% state with complete conviction say the BYU move has nothing to do with MONEY…… the bank roll for that school is amazingly deep. In the end BYU and its Chirch leaders will do what is best for the church and its school and I hope they will put in a lot of time in making a good decision.

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