SALT LAKE CITY — The butterfly effect again rippled west on Monday when news broke that the University of Connecticut may be jumping from the American Athletic Conference to the Big East.
Ah, realignment — the gift that keeps on giving.
This means the AAC could be looking for a replacement for the Huskies’ dreadful football program.
Which means BYU is the sexiest choice (is that an honor code violation?) to fill the vacancy.
Which means the pros and cons will be discussed ad nauseam.
That’s how the butterfly effect works. Movement in some part of the earth has repercussions far away.
The possibility of BYU finding a conference home comes at an intriguing time for the Cougars. When they first entered independence in 2011, they struggled to find opponents. Nowadays, not so much. November is still nothing to gloat about, but the schedule this year is the most interesting in school history: Utah, Tennessee, USC, Washington, Boise State, Utah State, San Diego State and some schools you might not recognize.
Getting quality games at home is still dicey, but athletic director Tom Holmoe seems more comfortable than he’s been. The Utah, USC, Boise State and Washington games are in Provo.
But in order to aspire to a major bowl, BYU would have to win practically every game. That won’t happen playing several Power Five teams, plus rivals Boise State and Utah State.
The path would be far easier in the AAC.
By joining the American, BYU wouldn’t even need to go undefeated to reach a New Year’s Six bowl. Boise State made it there three times, playing in a non-power conference. Teams to go big bowling under the current system include BSU, Houston, Western Michigan and Central Florida (twice). Of those five appearances, the Group of Five representative twice had losses.
Houston and UCF are in the AAC.
Boise reached the Fiesta Bowl after the 2014 season with two losses.
The American hasn’t asked anyone to join, but just in case, consider BYU’s competition among independents: Army, New Mexico State, UMass, Liberty. BYU isn’t a geographic fit — it is 1,200 miles from its closest potential opponent — but the Cougars have already traveled to UMass, Virginia, Wisconsin, Hawaii and East Carolina for games.
Twelve hundred miles?
So watch another movie on the plane.
The AAC might be inclined to remain at 11 schools. Standing pat has worked nicely for the Big 12-minus-two. Meanwhile, adding BYU could bring the kind of pressure that occurred when the Cougars attempted to get in the Big 12. Advocates for LGBT organizations lobbied to keep the Cougars out.
BYU is currently working on a contract extension with ESPN. That, combined with guaranteed money against P5 schools, produces more revenue than AAC membership would. So financially, BYU would do better to remain independent.
But other than missing out on conference championship ramifications, playing Pac-12 and SEC schools is considerably more interesting than playing Tulane, Central Florida and Tulsa.
Regardless, a move by UConn to the Big East — which doesn’t play football — would be good news for BYU. It could mean another chance to join a conference, making scheduling a breeze. But if BYU remains independent, the UConn football program will desperately need to schedule games.
BYU will be there to help out.
Waiting until the power conferences renegotiate their television deals in a few years is also a consideration for BYU. But it might just sit tight and wait for something that never develops.
If the AAC does fill the vacancy, the Cougars have to be a strong consideration. They’ll need to decide what they want. If the goal is to play interesting opponents half the year and make good money annually, independence is best. If it’s reaching a major bowl, there’s only one path — the one leading through the middle of America and points east.
When BYU went independent, it talked of playing for major bowls and national championships. The question for BYU may soon be, “How much does it want them?”