Dick Harmon: BYU, Big 12 interest draws plenty of speculation

Published: Monday, Sept. 26 2011 8:24 p.m. MDT

BYU remains a prime brand for the Big 12 expansion if the league's presidents decided to grow to 10 or 12 teams.

But that doesn't necessarily mean it will happen.

Why?

Because BYU won't abandon life as an independent with freedom to do what it wants to do with its ESPN TV deal and operation of its BYUtv for rebroadcasts of sporting events.

There are many in Big 12 territory and in Cougar country who can't figure out, if the Big 12 wants BYU, why isn't its administration turning cartwheels to sign on the dotted line with Texas, Oklahoma and the rest of this BCS entity.

Here are a few ideas why I believe this is crawling along.

In my humble opinion, BYU is in prime position as a Big 12 candidate. It is available, has a noticeable brand, big fan base and is competitive in most sports.

BYU knows this. So does the Big 12.

From BYU's perspective, it is only going to get one shot to draw up a list of what it needs from Big 12 membership. In negotiating, there are many points BYU will not budge on, one of them being Sunday play.

I don't think Sunday play in Big 12 championships is a big issue. Many athletic administrators like Sunday off, as a travel day, so students can return to classrooms on Monday.

But the other issues are critical.

In my opinion, based on conversations I've had over the past half year, BYU will not just jump into any league for the sake of BCS membership unless it is an almost perfect fit.

And what does that mean?

It means that is BYU's starting point in negotiating.

First, it has to be a stable league. Right now, the Big 12 seeks stability through exit fees, contracts, promises and sworn oaths to keep together. Establishing stability, keeping it and proving it is a tough deal. A year ago, after Nebraska and Colorado left, stability ranked high on the Big 12 agenda. Then, the SEC accepted Texas A&M on Monday.

As recently as a few days ago, Missouri was considering bolting. Only a few weeks ago, Oklahoma was courting the Pac-12 without success.

The Big 12 needs to prove stability. If it can't, BYU won't join and many experts smarter than I say that would be the correct course of action for the Cougars.

Stability isn't a simple issue for BYU and the Big 12. We're only weeks away from when Baylor president Ken Starr refused to sign a waiver of legal action against A&M. We're only days away from Oklahoma president David Boren publicly smacking down the idea that anybody is going to sue anybody.

Next is BYUtv.

BYU's administration and governing board like the idea of BYU athletic events shown live or replayed nationally and internationally. An investment has been made. These folks envision BYU's brand becoming more recognizable than ever, and on the heels of that recognition, a message of a better life through ideals and faith.

That may seem quirky to some, but it is important to those who count at BYU. If the Big 12 presidents or the Big 12 TV partners do not agree to allow BYU to replay football games or do live league events on BYUtv, the Cougars simply will not join, in my opinion.

This issue is important enough to BYU that last year, a visiting LDS apostle told a group of athletic department employees he envisioned BYU's brand could someday be as recognizable as the golden arches at McDonald's. I don't think he meant that literally but as a figure of speech as to the power of mass distribution in television communications.

Through private donations, BYU has built a TV broadcast facility worth more than $100 million. It will not become a paperweight on campus. This is a prime reason such talk of BYU doing away with intercollegiate athletics on a high level is silly. BYU is one of only a few that can pull off independence, and its TV technological capabilities are a decade ahead of the University of Texas right now.

BYU left the MWC primarily because the league's TV partner, Comcast, and other presidents did not want BYUtv to rebroadcast games. It would be highly hypocritical for BYU to let the Big 12 restrict that after leaving the MWC because of it.

Remember, this is a league that does not like one of its members making demands or getting a foot up. Already, the way Texas has operated in that league, getting its own way, is cause for all the rift and destabilization.

This is an issue for the Big 12 with BYU. Can BYU make such demands? Yes, it can.

But remember, this is a group of league presidents in the Big 12 who have already had some of their coaches whine about the age of some of BYU's football players due to two-year missions.

The Big 12 is a league of tender feelings, trust issues, jealousy and gang hissy fits as a very arrogant and powerful University of Texas towers over all with its $300 million deal with ESPN for the Texas Longhorn Network. Texas will not share its gold.

Only last week, one of the Big 12's best-connected sportswriters, Barry Tramel of the Daily Oklahoman, had BYU as the No. 1 expansion candidate in a list that included TCU, Louisville, West Virginia and Boise State.

In Tramel's list of pluses for BYU, he listed large fan base, a good tradition and, as an independent, most readily available. As minuses, he listed a Texas-like reputation in getting along within a league.

And this is true. Many times in the MWC, BYU would talk like Texas. It bugged folks at Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico. But BYU had clout, ticket numbers, the fan base, ratings and championships; others did not.

BYU gets one chance to get its way in a new league — protect itself. This is it.

If you're selling a prized car, you don't discount price if nice rims or a stereo are taken off, you certainly don't announce the step-by-step of dialogue so every Tom, Dick and Harry can chime in. Some in the Big 12 have done this, both last summer and now, and at times have looked the fool.

So, in conclusion, if you hear reports out of Texas or Oklahoma that BYU is not interested in the Big 12, it is only an interpretation of BYU negotiating its talking points.

If the Big 12 wants BYU in its league, it will find a way to get it done. If BYU receives what it demands, it will be in the Big 12.

Period.

Only three people know the very latest on a daily basis of an ever-changing issue: President Cecil O. Samuelson, vice president Kevin Worthen and athletic director Tom Holmoe.

They are not talking.

Why?

The art of negotiation.

EMAIL: dharmon@desnews.com

Twitter: Harmonwrites

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