Dick Harmon: BYU's possible move to independence is all about increased exposure

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 18 2010 11:00 p.m. MDT

PROVO — BYU going independent in football isn't all about money — even if this rumored move potentially increases revenues at least four to six times instantly.

No, it boiled down to other issues.

First, it provides BYU flexibility in negotiating TV rights and establishing itself as an unencumbered brand in case the Big 12 decided to add two teams.

The closer appears to be a successful negotiation with ESPN to broadcast BYU football and basketball games while taking care of non-football sports via the WAC or MWC.

As a rumored partner with ESPN, BYU has an advocate to help solve scheduling issues in football and even be a voice at the table in the BCS issue or inclusion in bowl games. Don't underestimate the clout of ESPN riding shotgun on a move to independence.

Money, yes, there will be more. But in the bigger picture, this move is about increased national exposure.

The impending move will significantly bring BYU football and basketball more exposure nationally through ESPN. Look no further than the brand Boise State has forged in a short time through ESPN. It will also open the door for a global product on the major satellite platforms.

It frees BYU to put up more sports programming on its own network, BYU-TV, which is not geared to be a money machine but was created to provide uplifting and entertaining programming that "enables its viewers to see the good in the world around them."

It is also a vehicle for the LDS Church to define itself without going the 700 Club route or hitting folks over the head with a preachy heavy two-by-four.

This move toward independence and more exposure would not happen if not approved by the sponsoring faith, the LDS Church. This is the big picture — debate schedules, the BCS, access to BCS bowls, and other issues all you want and have fun.

But this is primarily about one issue.


BYU wouldn't have received permission to build a state-of-the-art TV studio for BYU-TV on campus if it didn't intend to use that asset. Using sports and profiling youth involved in major college athletics is one avenue to couch the message and draw interest in other programming.

Money is icing on the cake of BYU's sponsoring entity.

Why the need for exposure? Well, bear with me. Throw your stones later.

The LDS Church has aggressively sent out its message for nearly two centuries, in part through thousands upon thousands of young missionaries.

Still, as a recent survey showed, most Americans know little if anything about the faith, and a majority have a negative view.

The faith learned long ago that high-profile sports figures such as Hall of Famer Steve Young, Dale Murphy and others can highlight beliefs and philosophies embedded in it.

As reported earlier this summer in the Deseret News, more Americans have a strongly unfavorable impression of Mormons than a strongly favorable one — by a ratio of 5-to-1 — and it's up to Mormons themselves to correct the situation, said public opinion pollster Gary Lawrence.

Lawrence's data claims only 12 percent of non-Mormon Americans know, unaided, the LDS Church's claim to be a restoration of the church that Christ founded. Sixty-seven percent are uncertain whether Mormons believe the Bible, 77 percent aren't sure whether Mormons are Christians, and 75 percent don't know whether Mormons practice polygamy, Lawrence said.

"We've been doing missionary work for 180 years. I'd say the delivery vehicles are arriving, but the freight isn't being off-loaded, and that's our fault," he said.

If BYU goes the independent route, it is because one of the highest-profile programs the LDS Church sponsors — the university and its sports programs — was a light hidden under a bushel in the MWC.

This move has been researched and studied in detail for years by athletic director Tom Holmoe, his staff and university President Cecil O. Samuelson.

If and when it happens, it is with approval beyond their pay grades.

If this doesn't ring clear, one might not really know why BYU is located on the hill in Provo.

e-mail: dharmon@news.com

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