Bringham Young University made a bold statement on Wednesday, leaving the Mountain West Conference and taking their football program independant.
The announcements for BYU came at almost the same time as the Big Ten Conference leaked information about their plans for two divisions.
There are a nuimber of major implications to these announcements out of Utah, many of which could further cloud the future of college football.
First, as the Big Ten and Pac 10 add schools to become bigger "power conferences," BYU going independent strengthens Notre Dame's position as a conference-free football program. The face that BYU has left a powerful conference and signed a deal with a major network to televise their games shows that being free of conference alignment isn't a thing of the past.
Secondly, it spits in the face of conference consolidation. There were rumors earlier in the summer that, when Nebraska joined the Big Ten and Colorado and Utah joined the Pac 10, the Big 12 Conference was on the brink of implosion. Suddenly there was a growing support for the most powerful conferences to consolidate into bigger conferences, and a belief that being left out of a conference would ultimately leave you out of the BCS Championship picture.
However, with BYU helping Notre Dame carry the torch for independence, a stronger case will be made in the future for schools outside traditional BCS conferences to compete for the biggest prize.
Finally, the big-money contracts that BYU and Notre Dame have with national networks to televise their games lends financial strength to schools being able to sell their brand outside of a conference structure.
Many universities rely on the strength of the pack to support their athletic programs, especially in these not-so-good economic times. Television deals for the SEC and ACC spread money across the conferences, while the Big Ten has it's own network to bring money into their universities. Indeed, these financial pressures were one case the Big Ten (and other conferences) had made to recruit Notre Dame to join.
Now, though, a school that can promote their own brand will have two schools to look at as trailblazers for what could develop into a new pattern: sell to the highest bidder. A school like Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama or Florida will now have to wonder how much more they could afford by moving into an independent situation, rather than their prime time programs and players supporting the bottom feeding schools in their conferences.
It will be interesting to watch how these schools, one Catholic and the other Mormon, transcend college sports at a time when most universities are begging for help.