BYU strikes unprecedented deals with ESPN, Notre Dame

2010-09-02T00:25:00Z 2013-06-12T09:39:17Z BYU strikes unprecedented deals with ESPN, Notre DameDarnell Dickson - Daily Herald Daily Herald
September 02, 2010 12:25 am  • 

Facing an army of reporters and a sea of cameras isn't something BYU coaching legend LaVell Edwards does much anymore, considering he's been retired for 10 years.

But there he was in the President's hosting room at the stadium named after him, answering questions about BYU's move to independence in football and the West Coast Conference in other sports.

"I don't think we should back away from scheduling anyone," the 79-year-old Edwards said.

Challenge accepted.

Confidence, BYU has. And why not? Following Tuesday's stunning announcement that the school was pulling the trigger on an unprecedented move to independence, Wednesday's news conference provided some equally compelling details: Not only has BYU signed an eight-year agreement with ESPN for broadcast rights to a minimum of three home football games per year, it has also agreed with independent national power Notre Dame on a six-game series.

The new TV deal gives ESPN exclusive rights to all of BYU's home games for its family of networks, which include ESPN, ABC, ESPN2 and ESPNU. Any home game that isn't selected by ESPN can be picked up by BYU-TV, which is available in 55 million North American homes. BYU also has same day re-broadcast rights of any home game, an arrangement it couldn't get with the Mountain West Conference TV deal.

ESPN programming representative Dave Brown said at the news conference: "This is a tremendous day for ESPN. We're back in business with BYU."

Scheduling will be a challenge, but BYU got a big boost from Notre Dame. The details are still being worked out but the two teams will meet six times between 2012 and 2020.

In addition, The Western Athletic Conference announced it has reached an agreement where five league teams -- Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and San Jose State -- will provide the Cougars with five games in the 2011 season and four games in the 2012 season. Utah State opted not to participate in the league's contract because it has already signed to play BYU through 2012.

BYU Director of Athletics Tom Holmoe, University President Cecil O. Samuelson and Advancement Vice President Kevin Worthen spent the past two weeks putting together a deal many critics said couldn't -- or shouldn't -- be done. Holmoe said the move to independence and the WCC came down to two pillars: Access and exposure.

"Being independent increases the access to our national following of fans," Holmoe said. "Every home football game and men's basketball game will now be carried nationally. We will be free to broadcast our Olympic sports as we desire and as often as we please."

Those Olympic sports will play in the WCC beginning in the 2011-12 season. WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said his league values stability: There hasn't been a new member of the conference in 30 years and five of the eight schools have been together for 50.

"First of all, BYU adds a ninth private, faith-based institution to our conference that is unequivocally dedicated to both national excellence in athletics and nationally ranked academics," he said. "Second, BYU will be immediately competitive in all of our WCC sports. Third, BYU is truly a national brand and will obviously increase the exposure of the WCC. This is an historic day in the West Coast Conference."

Zaninovich also said BYU's policy against Sunday play would be accommodated.

Some other key points from the news conference:

• Holmoe said he has already taken calls from several bowls interested in forming future alliances. ESPN owns seven bowls, including the Las Vegas Bowl, where BYU has been invited five straight years.

• Bowl Championship Series access is still not completely settled, though Holmoe said as long as BYU is in the top 14 in the BCS rankings, the Cougars could be considered for a BCS game. He also emphasized BCS access was not the reason BYU made the move to independence.

• When the deal with the WAC blew up two weeks ago, Holmoe said he thought BYU might have to wait and come back to independence at a later date. But discussions with ESPN and the WCC kept the idea alive. He said BYU examined a move to the WCC as far back as two years ago.

• BYU is still working on conference affiliation or independence for sports which aren't played in the WCC: softball, swimming and track.

• Holmoe said that while there are agreements with the WCC in place for the future (i.e., the Big 12 or another BCS conference coming to call in a few years), BYU doesn't view the move to the WCC as a stepping stone or landing pad.

• BYU could end up playing some non-Saturday football games on ESPN. For men's basketball, WCC games will be played on Thursday and Saturday with the opportunity for some "Big Monday" games, which traditionally start at 10 p.m.

• Holmoe said BYU wanted to stand by Utah as a partner in the MWC, but when that school elected to leave for the Pac-10, "It did open up opportunities we wouldn't have seriously looked at if they were still in the conference."

Holmoe said he knows there are risks involved in going independent.

"BYU is one of the schools that has the opportunity to try and go independent," he said. "We certainly couldn't have done it without the partnership of ESPN. One of the things that helps us is we are a national school. Many other schools realize when BYU plays a game on the road, our fans will support that game."

"We have some great partners who really wanted this to happen. If everyone wasn't totally in, this wouldn't have happened. We knew we could not let this window of opportunity pass us by. It was exhilarating, fun, hard, terrible, great ... and done."

• Daily Herald Sports Editor Darnell Dickson can be reached at (801) 344-2555 or ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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