Rival Utah's move to the Pac-10 has given BYU the impetus to seriously explore the possibility of leaving the Mountain West, going independent in football and re-joining the WAC in all other sports, multiple sources told ESPN.com Tuesday.
BYU, according to sources, was stunned that an invitation didn't come its way as the Pac-10 first invited the Big 12's Colorado and then turned to Utah to become the Pac-12 earlier this summer. The Big 12, which lost Nebraska to the Big Ten as well, decided to stay with 10 members for 2012 and beyond after Texas decided to stay put instead of going to the Pac-10.
According to sources, BYU wants to differentiate itself from Utah, and by making itself the Notre Dame of the West, it could become a national power. Notre Dame is a football independent and in the Big East for all other sports.
BYU and Notre Dame do share some characteristics, as both are religiously affiliated universities (Notre Dame with the Catholic Church and BYU with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and both schools have television affiliations (BYU owns its own network, while Notre Dame has a network deal with NBC). As a result, BYU is seeking an agreement similar to that of Notre Dame, which is granted a Bowl Championship Series bid if it is in the top eight of the final BCS standings.
According to multiple sources, BYU would have to get a gauge from the BCS if it could get access similar to that of Notre Dame -- should it meet certain criteria -- and further explore the financial feasibility of such a move.
In departing the Mountain West, BYU would be leaving a conference it helped found in 1998 along with seven other schools from the WAC. Despite having once turned its back on the WAC, multiple sources say the conference would welcome back the high-profile Cougars' non-football sports to join a league that is striving to remain relevant.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson said earlier this summer that the league "would give consideration to" taking back BYU in all other sports were the Cougars to go independent.
The current WAC membership includes Fresno State, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada and BYU's in-state rival Utah State. If BYU were to leave the MWC, then Fresno State and/or Nevada would certainly be possible options for the MWC if it decided to replace the Cougars.
BYU has discussed going independent in all sports for years as evident by local columns in Utah in 2007. But at that time, the option of being a football independent included also being an independent in all other sports where scheduling is much more difficult. That's not the case in this instance where BYU's other sports would be protected, especially in men's basketball -- a program which would have a favorable path to an NCAA tournament berth through the WAC.
According to sources, having all other sports, notably men's basketball assured of a home in the WAC where it has been comfortable and is in its region, would soften any transitional period.
But if BYU can't be assured a seat at the BCS table, the Cougars won't make the move, leaving anxious schools in the WAC and the MWC still waiting to see what its fate may be in the coming months or year.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.