When did this start?
BYU has always fancied itself as a candidate for joining a major conference. However, the Pac-10/Big 12 fight back in June passed with Utah getting a Pac-10 invite and BYU not getting so much as a phone call from anyone. That pretty much confirmed that the Pac-10 is never going to invite BYU, and the alternative of waiting by the phone for the Big 12 to call apparently wasn't enticing.
So, BYU began to hatch plans of going independent in football. BYU is well known for football (1984 national champions), has a nationally-available television network that's going HD, and the largest on-campus stadium of all non-AQ conference members. It's a risk, but it's doable.
Why would BYU go to the WAC in non-football sports?
Since the MWC probably wouldn't go for letting BYU stay in all non-football sports, it had to go somewhere else. The WAC is pretty much the only alternative available out west that has all of BYU's non-football sports.
So, BYU apparently went so far as to spearhead the movement for the WAC to create a large buyout after Boise State left to try to keep the conference together. The independent route only works in football. BYU needs a conference for all the other sports it sponsors.
Except that the WAC is pretty much dead now, right?
Pretty much. In what is largely (though not entirely) a defensive move, the MWC extended invitations to Fresno State and Nevada. Those schools quickly accepted, leaving the WAC of the future a six-team league. BYU would be No. 7 in all sports but football.
The WAC would have to raid other conferences to get up to eight to remain viable as a football league, but who is there to go get? I don't know that anyone would leave the relative strength of CUSA or the MAC to join the WAC leftovers now, which then just leaves the Sun Belt. And quite frankly, the Sun Belt looks more stable than the WAC does now. Calling up some I-AA teams to the big leagues (such as Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and UC Davis) might keep it alive, but that's not a bright future.
Where does this leave BYU?
The Cougars basically have no choice but to remain in the MWC now. The alternative is still going indie in football while joining the WCC in everything else. That's a step down from the WAC, which was already a step down from the MWC. The price for independence just got raised, and it might end up to rich for BYU's taste.
The MWC can't afford to lose BYU, though, right?
Right. MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said that inviting Fresno State and Nevada was a part of the conference's "strategy for positioning the MWC in the national landscape." That means it was partially about trying to get that automatic BCS bid. Trading Boise State for Utah was about a wash, but that effort dies without BYU.
So BYU does have one thing to hold over the MWC as negotiations undoubtedly continue. Of course, the impending death of the WAC means that BYU needs the MWC about as badly as the MWC needs BYU.
Do Fresno State and Nevada really help?
Marginally, yes. The only criterion of the BCS's three-pronged test for getting an auto-bid that the MWC needs help on is the second: average finish of all teams in the BCS computer polls. With Boise State and no Utah, the MWC's average finish over the last two years (the first two of the assessment period) was 58. Now with Fresno State and Nevada, it's 57.18. That is an improvement, however small it may be.
The MWC is chasing the sixth-place Big Ten who, with Nebraska, has an average finish of 49.91. It's still a long way off, and I think the MWC knows it can't get there without kicking out teams like San Diego State and New Mexico. Adding Fresno State and Nevada is definitely about keeping BYU, but it's probably also about making a case in its appeal to try to get a BCS auto-bid.
If BYU stays, that's 11 in the MWC. Who could it add to get to 12 that would also strengthen its BCS case?
Based on the last two years, only two teams not currently in an AQ conference would help the MWC make up serious ground on the Big Ten: East Carolina (avg. finish: 39.63) and Central Michigan (42.13). Not only does geography disqualify those two, but they also lost their coaches this off season.
Only two other teams would help improve the MWC's average finish. One is Troy (54.5), but again, geography disqualifies. The other is Houston (52.5). Those Cougars finished at 38.5 last year according to the computers, and another relatively strong finish is probably up for this year. Houston's comparatively rough 2008 (66.5) hurts, but the way UH projects over the next two years probably makes up for it. If a 12th team is coming, only Houston is worth it and fits geographically.
How does this affect the SEC?
A seventh automatic qualifying conference would mean a drop in BCS revenue, given that the value of the BCS contracts won't change. The MWC isn't a serious threat to get an auto bid as it stands today, but it is within the realm of possibility.
Beyond that, there's not much. The MWC's new state won't make a difference if/when Larry Scott and the Pac-10 tries to raid the Big 12 again. The top of the MWC could hook up with the Big 12 remnants to become stronger, and Texas A&M would still probably want to go east rather than west. Utah's inclusion in the Pac-12 makes that easier anyway, because then Scott could go get Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State and not have to worry about A&M's deliberations.
All these machinations on the non-AQ level are very interesting, but it's nothing that bothers the SEC much. Boise State's planned proposal to end guarantee games would impact us down here far more. Only when the Big Ten and Pac-10 get on the warpath again do we really need to worry about anything.