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Guest commentary: BYU football independence benefits basketball

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BYU's Brandon Ogletree, left, and Kyle Van Noy watch the Notre Dame offense as BYU and Notre Dame play Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in South Bend.

BYU’s Brandon Ogletree, left, and Kyle Van Noy watch the Notre Dame offense as BYU and Notre Dame play Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in South Bend.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

When the NCAA tournament announced that BYU would be playing in Dayton, Ohio, for its first game, my Facebook and cellphone started filling with messages from friends in the area who were interested in going to the game. Because I live in Dayton, this might not seem like a big deal to most. However, it is a big deal because of one small detail. I am a University of Utah alumni and many of those expressing interest in going to the game were alumni from other colleges than BYU. So, why are so many alumni from other schools interested in BYU basketball? The answer is football independence.

BYU’s decision to become independent in football has been polarizing for some. Some fans and media members argue that independence could be the start of the football program’s success while others argue it is the start of the demise. Yet one result of football independence is hidden to most Utah residents. That hidden result is the mobilization and growth of BYU’s nationwide fan base.

BYU’s independent football schedule and the resultant ESPN coverage exposed the nation to Brigham Young University athletics in a big way. Though some season ticket holders are unhappy, there are many more BYU fans around the country that are enjoying more access to BYU football than ever before. It is the only athletic connection to Utah sports for many. I personally have seen BYU play in Notre Dame, Virginia and more while I haven't had the opportunity to see Utah play within five hours driving distance. Other than BYU, there is a disconnect for the alumni from the University of Utah or Utah State that live out-of-state. The access to watch other schools' athletics is very limited both in person and on television (unless you want to pay a lot for a television package). The exposure difference has resulted in alumni and friends from many universities and colleges becoming familiar with and even fans of BYU.

Like many fans of many teams, we get together as groups of men and watch the football games. Because BYU games on ESPN are normally after 8-9 p.m. EST, we still have time to fulfill our duties as fathers and get “game ready.” We can tuck our children into bed, help with nighttime routines and rustle up some food to share all before leaving to watch the game. This food- and football-filled atmosphere results in many men gathering to enjoy the game. Many of those who attend and watch the games weren’t really interested in BYU at first. They kept coming to enjoy the company and after a season of being around the other fans they also started to follow BYU.

Now, many alumni have allegiances to both their school and BYU. When those schools play, we usually cheer for our school but the next week everyone cheers for the Y. This awareness of BYU athletics is now spreading all over the country. At church, work and other places, I have co-workers and friends report that they watched BYU football or basketball games over the weekend. This results in the present game today. I have heard from many non-BYU alumni that are interested in going and cheering for BYU at the First Four tournament game with me.

As for the wisdom in going independent, I will let others analyze that topic. But for those that left Utah for work or other reasons, BYU athletics on ESPN is often a critical link to home. Over the next few years, I will personally attend multiple football and basketball games that are within five hours driving distance while I won't be able to see the University of Utah at all. For many Utah transplants, BYU independence is a great thing. I predict the result of football independence to be a growth of BYU’s fan base and recruiting for all sports. It just might be a very bright future if the exposure remains the same.

Dr. Hans Watson, D.O., is a practicing physician and president of Universityexcel.com, a company that trains students to be the elite in college and to obtain any desired career. Email: hwatson@universityexcel.com