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Dick Harmon: Independence could be BYU's best option

Published: Friday, July 30 2010 10:33 p.m. MDT

Is BYU going independent?

That's a hot topic folks seem to want to debate this summer in the wake of conference expansion and the arms race among conferences.

Fact is, BCS leagues are gunning for more coin, and indications from the SEC and Big 12 are that they'll see significantly more money from TV deals. Utah and the Pac-10 are hoping for a piece of that windfall, optimistically believing checks will increase from about $10 million per school to around $18 million.

The Mountain West Conference's TV deal is about $1.5 million per school. The MWC hasn't publicly shown a viable plan that's going to double or even up its kitty by 25 percent in years to come.

What's BYU to do? It has a product. It has equity built in a solid football reputation and competes nationally in most of 20 or so sports. It also has some features, like a built-in network and TV facilities, that are very attractive and have never been fully tapped.

So, what's up? I don't think it is an absolute that BYU is thinking of going independent. I do think it is an option that is being heavily explored, along with other things such as sticking in the MWC and trying to gain automatic qualifying status. I believe BYU is in a "discovery" stage to see what makes sense and is realistic, then its administrators will go talk to MWC partners or potential different partners and make something work before going independent.

BYU needs to find some answers from the Big 12, the MWC and ESPN. Once they complete plain and simple talk based on facts, BYU should act.

When BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe spoke to the media earlier this month, it was a public-relations move to let fans and the media know BYU's administration was not sitting on its collective hands through expansion talks.

What Holmoe didn't specifically outline is all his "research" and "discovery" of BYU options and what BYU will do. He did hint at a few "assets" the university possesses that could prove valuable.

What are some of these assets?

A state-of-the-art, high-definition TV studio near completion east of the Marriott Center on campus, one that will rival anything the networks have in media centers in Los Angeles and New York.

A high-definition TV truck for production and broadcast of sporting events. This truck is the most up-to-date found anywhere in the western United States and a tool ESPN would love to rent for events centered in the West.

BYU-TV, an up-and-operating station that is available on the basic entry platform of DirecTV and Dish Network and some 200 cable companies worldwide. In the U.S. alone, this represents exposure to 60 million households and an estimated 40 million more in countries in South America. BYU-TV programming has been popular to the cable and dish companies because of its demand and low cost. At present, according to BYU-TV's mission statement, it is a non-commercial, nonprofit TV station, but it does accept sponsorships and contributions.

At present, BYU-TV programming follows a PBS-type format similar to KBYU-TV, only BYU-TV is not a PBS station. BYU-TV does have the ability to split its signal for live programming and aired 60 live sporting events this past year, including NCAA-sanctioned sports, club sports and rugby and women's soccer in HD.

The split signal gives BYU-TV the ability to explore a commercial broadcast aside from PBS-type underwriting. The university is researching legal and licensing issues related to accepting commercial programming.

As shown by the BYU-Oklahoma game in Cowboy Stadium last fall, ESPN is a willing partner in negotiating multimillion-dollar games with BYU for football games outside the Comcast/The mtn. contract held by the MWC for home games. And it doesn't take a brain surgeon to envision BYU/ESPN working on four or five similar games during a season.

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