BYU: More Big Games and Big East Insight
An article we published last week seems to have attracted attention from all over the country.
In the article, “Big Names Lining up to Face Cougars,” it was pointed out that the BYU football brand is strong, viable, and is being well received out there in the world of college football.
We reported that BYU is working on games with big-name programs like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Penn State, USC and UCLA.
BYU and ESPN are proving to be a very effective team in lining up some juicy, made-for-TV match-ups, and the power of this union will become more and more evident to followers of BYU, and college football fans in general, as games are officially announced.
In addition to the games we reported last week, a report published on Monday says that BYU is rumored to be opening the 2013 season at Arizona State on a Friday night on ESPN.
It also reports that the Cougars will play a home-home-neutral series with both Ohio State and Syracuse, with the neutral site contest with the Buckeyes to be held at Dallas Cowboys Stadium, and the neutral site match-up with the Orange to be played at the Meadowlands.
The Penn State neutral-site game is apparently scheduled for FedEx Field in 2014, while the rumored neutral site for the Nebraska series will be played at Denver’s Invesco Field.
The story also mentions the news that the Hawaii series will be played virtually every year through 2020, information that came out last week.
Big East Rumblings
It seems that our reporting of the Big East’s interest in BYU in the above-mentioned article created some of the biggest reverberations last week.
However, considering the current landscape in college athletics and conference realignment, it should be no surprise that conferences and schools all over the country have had, or are having conversations, informal and otherwise.
In fact, it would more of a surprise if such conversations weren’t taking place as schools and conferences jockey to improve their standing and their television contracts.
After all, who in the world would have ever imagined that TCU would become a member of the Big East? It’s a crazy world out there.
The Big East Dilemma
The Big East Conference, originally put together as a basketball conference targeting East Coast households, is facing a number of challenging questions regarding growth, realignment and future membership.
With the addition of TCU in 2012, the Big East will have nine FBS schools participating in football, and a total of 17 basketball programs.
While the Big East has traditionally been one of the best basketball conferences, it is currently battling for respect in football and trying to strengthen its tenuous place at the lucrative BCS table. That was the primary reason that the conference reached out to TCU last fall.
TCU is a program that has been on a meteoric rise over the past decade, and helps strengthen the football reputation of the Big East. It also weakens the Mountain West — the one conference that has been nipping at the heals of Big East in recent years.
Big East officials have reportedly been searching for a way to fix its football product ever since losing Miami, Virgina Tech and Boston College to the ACC in 2005.
A number of options have reportedly been looked at by the Big East brass.
The conference could stand pat at nine football-playing schools, expand to 10 teams, or go to 12 programs and institute a conference championship game. However, the non-football schools in the equation are not particularly excited about adding new schools to the already bloated basketball league.
Word on the street in Big East country is that the football-playing schools could part ways from the non-football schools at some point.
If the Big East were to expand for football, what would be its options?
The usual suspects for expansion have included Houston, Memphis, UCF or Villanova from the FCS — not the most scintillating options when you’re trying to improve your street cred in football.
Connecting the Dots
The key player in the Big East’s successful luring of TCU was West Virgina athletic director Oliver Luck.
Luck is a former star quarterback at WVU, and father of Stanford quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck. Oliver has ties to the state of Texas, having served as the CEO of the Houston Sports Authority where, among other responsibilities, he oversaw the funding and construction of Reliant Stadium.
Luck has reportedly been a strong proponent of conference expansion and championed the idea of bringing TCU into the Big East fold. He is also considered to have been the point man in bringing the two parties to an agreement.
He is also the person that BYU and ESPN worked with to schedule the 2016 match up between the Cougars and Mountaineers at FedEx Field in Washington, DC. In fact, Luck and West Virgina were among the very first to buy in on the BYU/ESPN sales pitch.
It didn’t take much arm twisting either, considering that each school will reportedly make $2.25 million dollars for its appearance in the game. That number is not far from equaling in one game the $3 million West Virginia currently receives annually from the Big East television contract. What Luck immediately realized is that doing business with BYU these days is very lucrative.
So with the Big East looking to potentially expand, and with TCU already in their back pocket, why not continue to look West to a program with BYU’s tradition and ability to generate revenue?
Adding TCU, BYU, and maybe even a Boise State and Air Force could bring a significant infusion of football strength to the conference and cement it as a BCS fixture. Big East football would be a player from coast-to-coast.
With the Big East analyzing all of its options, and with expansion proponent Luck already greatly profiting from his business relationship with BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, it’s easy to connect a few dots and understand how the Big East and BYU could have begun talking.
BYU’s Path Is Clear
Despite any interest from other parties, BYU’s has its feet firmly planted on the path of independence.
In Holmoe’s heart of hearts, he prefers independence to being in any conference. In many ways, every day is Christmas day for Holmoe.
No AD in the country has the kind of relationship and arrangement that he has with ESPN.
While scheduling as an independent has it challenges, having the “world-wide leader in sports” as a scheduling partner has major advantages.
BYU has control of its own destiny and its own product, while Holmoe and BYU President Cecil Samuelson are relieved from having to deal with all of the politics that are inherent in being part of a conference.
Now, if a conference like the Big 12 came calling, such an invite could redirect BYU’s plans — unless of course BYU can broker greater access into the BCS on its own.
ESPN and the BCS
BYU is an non-automatic qualifying program, yet it is the only program in the country to have a contract like it does with ESPN.
Let that settle for just a moment.
ESPN knows what it’s doing, and it knows what it has in BYU — which is why it is willing to shell out four or five million dollars a pop to pair the Cougars against other notable programs. Over the years, BYU has consistently delivered some of the network’s highest-rated college football games.
Combine that with the fact that ESPN also owns some or all of the broadcast rights for virtually every BCS conference, as well as the broadcast rights the BCS bowl games themselves, and you can see why the Cougars could be on the verge of becoming a have, rather than a have-not.
If BYU does gain greater access to the BCS through leveraging ESPN’s influence and control, Holmoe and BYU will have virtually everything they could possibly want.
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