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Dick Harmon: BYU's broadcast issues boiling over

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 24 2010 12:49 a.m. MDT

BYU's fight over Mountain West Conference TV contract details is a battle that should have been decided a long time ago.

The fact that BYU is forcing the action, which brought retaliation by MWC presidents and the MWC commissioner last week in scuttling a Cougar plan with the WAC, shows how far the two sides differ on its importance.

In my opinion, this is how it unfolded:

When CSTV started this whole thing with the MWC, some of BYU's concerns such as retention of some rights for local broadcasts, replays and other items appeared to be no contractual problem. Then Comcast stepped in and later CBS joined the deal. Lost in the changing of chairs were some of these key concessions, which would be in the best interest of all MWC members, especially at Utah and BYU, whose local TV stations could have played a role.

About this time of ownership/operations changes with the MWC'S fledging network, BYU changed presidents and athletic directors and the MWC's board of directors (presidents) pretty much accepted the Comcast/CBS contract that hatched The mtn. It was a very restrictive document that didn't include the concerns CSTV said would be OK, and the MWC gatekeepers let it slide.

Remember those days? The main charge from the MWC, the mtn., and their leadership, was to admonish fans to call satellite companies and demand they take the MWC sports network.

In other words, the fans were supposed to do some heavy lifting.

I'm told this MWC TV contract was not sent to MWC schools to study personally. Instead, an executive summary was provided, and if folks wanted to see the actual canon, they'd have to fly to Denver and turn the actual pages with the flesh.

Dumb, dumb and dumber. MWC presidents were so giddy with the new TV deal, they laid down on the couch to watch.

I doubt any school executive inspected the papers. Years went by with complaints from BYU. Nobody listened.

Then one day, not too long ago, BYU sent a smart lawyer type to Denver to review the actual contract. He found a loophole that non-home games could be broadcast by each school and that led to BYU-TV broadcasting neutral site games at the EnergySolutions Arena and preseason games in Las Vegas.

Still, issues remained. BYU complained for redress. The commissioner's office, in my opinion, gave the complaints lip service with a few MWC presidents that BYU was seeking an unfair advantage. Silly BYU.

They never took BYU's concerns to Philadelphia and the headquarters of Comcast bigwigs. I mean the top level.

BYU erred. They should have bypassed the MWC office and jetted a brainy guy to Philadelphia for a real sitdown with the president or VP of programming.

Something could have been agreed to that wouldn't have compromised the pact.

Now, a frustrated BYU has taken a stand. Some around the league call it arrogant. What it really is, is a cleanup effort, housekeeping.

Unfortunately, it may lead to a different door for both parties.

BYU's best-case scenario is for the Big 12 to expand and call the Cougars. But even then, BYU would need the fit to be right (no Sunday play, use of BYU-TV). BYU's mission, the bigger picture demanded by its sponsoring religion, dictates the facilities on campus receive significant usage. The Big 12 is an ESPN conference and it understands the need for a presence in the West since ESPN's WAC is now injured, Colorado is gone, and competitively the Pac-10 might be headed for a renewal with rival Fox.

The second-best scenario is for BYU to go independent, and make it work. That means finding a solid landing spot in a reorganized WAC or another "concession-giving" conference that allows a similar deal for BYU's non-football sports. This gives BYU an opportunity to partner with ESPN and use its new studios to broadcast sporting events. If BYU has gone a few steps down the road with ESPN, it is a partner you do not walk away from. ESPN has the ability to walk into the BCS boardroom, open a brief case and change the climate instantly. Same with bowl games and schedules.

The third-best situation, in my opinion, is for a "concession-giving" MWC to re-work the TV contract to allow the only team in the league with the capability of creating and using a facility like this one the right to do so; a net gain of exposure for both. If this goes forward and if BYU can influence the agenda, it should insist Utah State become a 12th member.

This third option is what partners would do. If it fails, jealously and name-calling will wreck reconciliation.

What is unacceptable for BYU, in my opinion, is the status quo. And I predict it will not stand.

It is a situation where several schools that have brought very little to the MWC since its inception have an equal vote and the league's broadcast partner has failed to negotiate a remedy despite many requests. Equal votes? That's not the case in the Pac-10 nor the Big 12.

That sounds unfair, some call it arrogant, but that's reality.

Another face to all of this is a possible nova of sorts. If BYU doesn't declare independence by Sept. 1, wouldn't it be worth the research by the country's top non-AQ teams to create a league that could earn AQ status by meeting BCS' tough three-step requirement? To do so, the best of the best would have to stand together.

On their own the MWC, WAC and CUSA can never reach BCS AQ status.

Sorry all you non-BCS dreamers who think AQ can be achieved by "doing well."

Not happening. Even if Utah had stayed, it wouldn't happen with the MWC.

That third step, the average ranking of league teams, is specifically designed by the BCS to keep AQ status from ever happening. It is an open manhole cover. The BCS mafia knows the bottom-feeders in those three leagues — teams that rank 100-plus — kill the qualification computation.

Anyone who thinks otherwise, well, they are delusional.

The current situation does not maximize the interests of BYU nor the MWC, which would benefit from the exposure if BYU were free to retains some broadcast rights for it's BYU-TV platform and a potential audience of at least 50 million.

All of this is a boiling cauldron with BYU, the MWC, WAC and college football in general. Nobody can predict the outcome, but the ball is rolling toward an endgame.

This will be an interesting week, indeed.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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