BYU football: Neutral-site games have become an important part of Cougars' scheduling strategy

Published: Monday, July 1 2013 6:10 p.m. MDT

BYU cheerleaders during an NCAA college football game between BYU and TCU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. Playing neutral-site games is an important part of BYU's scheduling strategy.

LM Otero, AP

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

PROVO — It was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

When ESPN called BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and offered the Cougars the chance to play national power Oklahoma at the Dallas Cowboys’ brand-new, state-of-the-art, retractable-roofed, 80,000-seat, billion-dollar stadium, Holmoe eagerly worked to make it happen.

As it turned out, about 15,000 Cougar fans descended upon the Dallas area that Labor Day weekend for the 2009 season opener, and they went home elated after BYU sprung a stunning 14-13 upset over the No. 3 Sooners on national television. It was the inaugural college football game played at Cowboys Stadium.

Many Cougar fans sacrificed, scrimped and saved to buy tickets to that showdown, and some traveled long distances to be there. The fact their team won was an added bonus.

That was nearly four years ago — and one year before BYU announced it would be going independent in football.

Now, the Cougars are heading into their third season of independence, and an important part of their scheduling plan includes playing neutral-site games at NFL stadiums.

In 2016, BYU will play two of them. The Cougars meet West Virginia at FedEx Field (home of the Washington Redskins) in Landover, Md., then they face Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium (home of the Arizona Cardinals) in Glendale, Ariz. FedEx Field boasts a seating capacity of 91,704 — and is the largest stadium in the NFL.

Expect to see BYU involved in more of those types of games in the future, Holmoe said. “You’re going to see us play bigger teams at neutral sites because it works for them, and it works for us as an independent."

It's all part of a growing trend in college football. Many college games have been held at Cowboys Stadium since BYU and Oklahoma first played there.

For NFL teams, hosting college games can be a lucrative revenue stream, and for college teams, playing in an NFL stadium creates a significant financial windfall. In that 2009 game at Cowboys Stadium, Oklahoma reportedly received $2.25 million, while the Cougars earned about $1.5 million.

Some NFL teams are taking it a step further and are getting into the bowl business. In May, the Detroit Lions announced their intentions of starting a bowl game at Ford Field.

Of course, BYU is no stranger to playing in NFL stadiums. In 1985, the Cougars played Boston College at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and met Temple at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. More recently, BYU has played at the old Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., Alltel Stadium (now EverBank Field) in Jacksonville, Fla., the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, and Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

In April, Holmoe and University of Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne jointly announced a three-game series between the Cougars and Wildcats, with the opening game being played at University of Phoenix Stadium. The two teams will then play a home-and-home series in 2018 and 2020.

University of Phoenix Stadium has a retractable roof and seats 63,400. It opened in August 2006 and is the site of the annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

"It's a beautiful venue," Holmoe said. "The last time I was there was for the national championship game for Oregon and Auburn (in January 2011). The way they set it up there was fantastic. The fans are going to realize that it's very fan-friendly … The people at the Fiesta Bowl have been so good and so hospitable about putting this together and letting BYU and Arizona … put together a great event."

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