BYU football: Cougar, WAC 'prenup' gives insight

Published: Monday, Aug. 23 2010 11:00 p.m. MDT

Exactly how close was BYU to declaring its football independence and rejoining the Western Athletic Conference?

Close enough that what can essentially be called a prenuptial agreement was drawn up and ready to go — until Fresno State and Nevada got proposals they liked a little better.

In a document obtained by the Deseret News on Monday, details are spelled out that shed a lot of light on how BYU and the WAC were negotiating and, perhaps, some of the reasons BYU was considering such a move.

In a 'Memorandum of Understanding' (MOU) worked on and tentatively agreed to by all eight WAC schools and BYU, the Cougars were set to embark on a new era. BYU would get the control of the school's football television revenue and distribution it was angling for. The copy of the MOU obtained by the Deseret News was in draft form and sources say had since seen some revisions and amendments added and/or subtracted.

Regardless, the draft of the agreement showed a high level of cooperation and spelled out the degree BYU would be involved in WAC leadership, as well as what BYU was willing to offer the conference in exchange for calling nearly all the shots in regards to football scheduling.

Under an item labeled "Football scheduling," the WAC and BYU had agreed, as previously reported, to a mutually beneficial setup.

"WAC to provide BYU with a minimum of four football games per year and a maximum of six football games per year — not counting any long-term scheduling agreement that may be contracted with Hawaii or Utah State," the MOU said. "For the 2011 season, two games will be played in WAC Stadiums and four games will be played at BYU. For 2012 season, three games will be played in WAC stadiums and three games at BYU. Beginning in 2013, half of all games played will be played in WAC stadiums and half will be played at BYU."

BYU, by moving all of its nonfootball sports to the WAC, would be given full membership privileges at conference meetings.

"BYU President will serve on the WAC Board of Directors and have full voting privileges on all issues except those pertaining to the sport of football," the MOU said under the Governance heading. "BYU to have full representation on WAC Council and all and any standing committees and all coaches groups and have full voting privileges on all issues, except those pertaining to the sport of football."

Obviously, the driving point behind BYU's potential move was TV revenue from football. Under the MOU, BYU would use its new broadcast facility to virtually replicate what the Mountain West Conference is getting from its own television channel, The mtn. That is in addition to the WAC's current ESPN contract and a contract with the network being negotiated by BYU.

"BYU commits to televising via its cable network the following WAC events: all matches of the WAC volleyball tournament not televised by ESPN, all games of the WAC men's and women's basketball tournaments not televised by ESPN, all games of the WAC baseball tournament and softball tournament," the agreement stated. "BYU will have the rights to televise any other WAC championship events that is wishes, along with any other regular-season events when permissible per the ESPN contract."

Under the heading labeled Revenue Sharing, BYU and the WAC laid out what each entity would receive in regards to football, differentiating between television and possible bowl game revenues.

"WAC will retain 100 (percent) of all the rights fees it receives from its ESPN agreement. BYU will retain 100 (percent) of all rights fees it receives from its ESPN contract. There will be no sharing of television revenues by either party," the agreement said. "WAC will retain 100 (percent) of all BCS revenue that it receives. BYU will retain 100 (percent) of all BCS revenue that it receives. There will be no sharing of BCS revenues by either party."

BYU, because of its scheduling cooperation, was to be granted access to a bowl game affiliated with the WAC if BYU did not receive its own bowl invitation.

"BYU will be guaranteed one of the WAC's current four bowl spots as long as its record is better than that of the WAC team finishing third in the conference standings," the MOU stated. "BYU will be responsible for all expenses and any liability associated with the bowl game."

But, because the football scheduling would usually have a pro-BYU slant, the Cougars were willing to pay guarantees to schools that ended up playing in Provo, but did not get an even number of "return" games.

"During the term of the agreement, if BYU does not play a 'return' football game with a WAC member, BYU will provide that team with a guarantee of $700,000 per game."

In the revisions, it was made clear the $700,000 was just a starting point in negotiations and the actual guarantee money would not be as high.

The agreements, which as of now are not going to happen, included an eight-year term, a $2 million buyout for BYU and $5 million buyouts for the other schools — with the option to waive the buyout for Louisiana Tech. If any WAC school in the agreement, including BYU, were to leave for a BCS conference, the buyout fee would also be waived. BYU would agree to not rejoin the MWC if that conference were to eventually receive automatic qualifying BCS status.

Other provisions made for the Cougars included an agreement to not schedule BYU games of any kind or any conference championship tournament games on Sundays and to avoid scheduling BYU games on Mondays.

Though no longer a possibility after Fresno State and Nevada decided a home in the MWC (possibly with BYU remaining) was preferable to staying in the WAC (with BYU jumping aboard in all sports but football), the Memorandum of Understanding provides a glimpse into the thinking behind what was almost a ground-shaking shift in college athletics in the western United States.

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