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Dick Harmon: Going independent not the solution to BYU's problems

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 12:04 a.m. MDT

Could BYU make it as an independent?
Is independence a viable, productive financial move to consider? If not to ensure a better TV deal, to at least wield a hammer in the negotiations between Comcast and the satellite companies?
Is it doable?
According to a panel of BYU experts, it might be good for football, but the rest of the school's sports would suffer mightily. And it is debatable how well football would really fare.
Say BYU abandons the MWC in football and tries to keep the rest of its sports in conference competition either in the MWC, switch to the WAC or even go down a tier to the Big Sky. Is that feasible?
Not really.
Don't kid yourselves. Such arrogance, believing a league would want the other sports without football, would be filed away around the region in a very thick folder of other perceived high and mighty, self-righteous BYU anecdotes.
On the other hand, BYU has done due-diligence by the MWC for a year over a flawed TV agreement. The time has come to explore all options; it gave up far more than other MWC brothers by doing the current TV deal.
But going independent is a far-out discussion in reality.
There is a reason Notre Dame, the king of independent athletic programs, hooked up with the Big East. Operating as an independent is a futile exercise in piecemeal competition, watered-down rivalries, titleless momentum, empty individual recognition and scheduling nightmares.
The program that finished first or second in every MWC sport offered in 2006-07 could hit the proverbial wall both financially and politically. NCAA basketball tournament "units" earned in the MWC for projected future income would be forfeited, as would shares of the projected $82 million current league TV deal — as stinky as it's been.
"They're just now finishing the football schedule I worked on when I was athletic director," said former BYU athletic director Glen Tuckett. "If you want to take the cute girls to the party, you have to call early."
A move to go independent in football could take a decade to pull off just in scheduling contracts. And who would want to play the Cougars in Provo during a key stretch of Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-10 conference play? In basketball, take away the built-in 16 league games. As an independent, trying to schedule games after December in Provo would be almost impossible ... Schedule other sports? Go fish.
"Independent? All you have to do is ask Utah State how they fared as an independent," said Tuckett. "If it's so great, why are all the independents trying to get in leagues?"
"If you want to know how big a headache and nightmare it is to be an independent, just talk to Mike Jacobsen, our athletic director," said former BYU athletic director Val Hale, now a vice president at UVSC, an independent program that has gone provisional Division I. It has had many struggles — in part because it still lacks a conference affiliation and its accompanying built-in rivalries.
UVSC's struggles are, of course, different from those BYU would deal with in the bigger picture. UVSC faces a ban against participating in NCAA postseason tournaments during its seven-year probation.
Of course, it's unfair to compare UVSC's drawing power, especially in regard to TV contracts, with the Cougars. But logistically, with things such as scheduling, keeping rivalries, vying for championships, enjoying conference berths in postseason play and buoying up basketball attendance, issues have the same aroma.
And what about a football TV contract?
Who is going to call? ABC? ESPN — for Tuesday and Friday night spots? And for how much money?
Games could go on BYU-TV and get broad distribution, and KSL-TV could step in and pick up a ton of broadcasts. But the financial rewards would be minimal — you can do only so much with those PBS fund-raising telethons and local car dealership commercials.
If you operate a $20-plus million athletic budget, you need cash. That's among reasons BYU folks aren't letting fans bring in their own popcorn, sack lunch or water to the stadium.
Notre Dame has NBC because Notre Dame is who it is — the Microsoft of the sport of football.
"They've been able to schedule anybody since Knute Rockne was a little child," said Tuckett.
If BYU administrators consider looking into becoming an independent, it might be to just placate irate boosters who do not like the current TV deal. ... I do know, BYU will not stand by with the status quo of its TV deal.
But jumping leagues or going independent? Formation of a new league would be more plausible, maybe even doable.
Getting into a BCS conference is not going to happen for BYU or Utah anytime soon, if ever.
And the popular fan pipe dream that the Pac-10 will someday come calling is akin to mistaking my shower singing for Josh Groban.
Memo: The Pac-10 likes its private party and the money they rat hole from the BCS and Rose Bowl. They have no plans for sharing it.
There are truths about the Cougar drawing power, however.
BYU carries tons of clout in the MWC. If Comcast does not respect BYU over this TV issue, I guarantee there will be consequences. Face it, TV folks want the Cougars over anybody else in the little wannabe league. Anybody who denies that is missing bulbs upstairs.
BYU's best move is to do all it can to build up the reputation of the MWC, solidify its place on the college scene, get Comcast negotiators off their butts for a deal, and garner more respect by defeating non-league opponents, especially those from BCS conferences, like Arizona come Saturday.
For the Cougars, going independent would be like giving Lindsay Lohan the key to a school bus.
It's mighty presumptuous to think you'll actually get somewhere.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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