BYU football: ESPN critical to BYU's scheduling efforts as an independent

Published: Thursday, June 20 2013 5:30 p.m. MDT

Former BYU football coach Lavell Edwards (L) is interviewed during the ESPN Game Day broadcast near Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009. L-R: Edwards, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Editor's note: This is the second in an occasional series exploring the issues related to scheduling BYU football games as an independent.

PROVO — Scheduling games as an independent football program has been more difficult than BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall expected.

But it has been more gratifying, too.

“It has required more work than I had anticipated,” he said. “However, now as we're progressing, I think we're making significant strides.”

As an independent, BYU must schedule 12 regular-season games every year. For Mendenhall and athletic director Tom Holmoe, the scheduling process takes up a significant amount of their time.

The day after he attended the National Football League draft in late April, for example, Mendenhall was in his New York City hotel room working on the 2015 schedule.

BYU is entering its third year as an independent, and Mendenhall is encouraged by what has been achieved.

“The schedules are growing in difficulty and intrigue,” he said. “As difficult as it was to begin, we're ending up with more opportunities of depth and difficulty than I ever imagined. Really, it's becoming the art of saying no, and balancing the opponents, and the venues, and the travel at a higher level than what I thought we would have the opportunity to do. In a nutshell, it's more difficult than I expected, but now more opportunities than I dreamed of."

Looking at future games that have been announced, the Cougars have scheduled teams from nine different conferences, including the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pac-12. Those featured on upcoming schedules include Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, Arizona and West Virginia.

Holmoe has described the scheduling process this way: “It's like missionaries knocking on doors,” he recently tweeted, “lots of conversations, not a lot of takers. But when it comes together — Awesome!”

BYU has plenty of help with scheduling thanks to its broadcast partner, ESPN. Dave Brown, who is ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisitions for college football, works closely with Holmoe and Mendenhall.

While many coaches get involved with scheduling by talking to fellow coaches about setting up a series, Mendenhall's approach is “kind of the opposite of that,” the coach said.

“Dave Brown brings most of the possible games to Tom. Tom then sifts through them. (Recently), I got a list of three or four teams per conference that are available for 2015 to fill the remaining spots. What I'm able to do, once Tom sends that to me, I'm able to prioritize the teams that are available, which teams I'd like to play and in what order. I have final approval on who we play and when. Tom will take that information back to Dave, and he'll work on it and get it back to Tom and back to me. There's some partnership between the three of us, and at the end of the day, I have the ultimate say on who we play and giving that approval."

Holmoe said effective scheduling requires a strong working relationship with Mendenhall and ESPN.

“I work on football scheduling several times each week. Opportunities come along and I have good dialogue with other schools and on occasion conferences,” Holmoe said. “Bronco and I talk quite a bit. We talk through issues such as home versus away games, travel distance, placement of games and bye weeks. So much of scheduling is a matter of finding balance. As a former coach, I understand the importance of scheduling, and make sure Bronco and I are on the same page before finalizing a series. … Our contacts at ESPN call regularly about potential schedule opportunities and to discuss possible matchups. This is another example of how the ESPN contract is a win-win situation for BYU.”

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