Dick Harmon: ESPN matchmaker sings BYU's praises

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 2015 8:15 a.m. MDT

There were two big elephants in the room at BYU's official independence party in LaVell Edwards Stadium on Tuesday.

Without either one, the Cougars' bold move to explore going it alone in football would have been in vain.

Who were the two whose weight dented the floor? LaVell Edwards and ESPN.

The legendary Edwards looked statesmanlike, humble, courteous and yet proud for the moment when BYU made a major move to gain more exposure.

Dave Brown, one of the most talented game/team brokers in sports for the World Wide Leader, spoke with authority and enthusiasm and he was immaculately dressed, like a high-powered TV mogul.

Brown sold BYU football like it was ruby in its regal crown, and this was a reunion of two old buddies who'd fought against the French in the days of Henry VIII.

Brown hit it so hard, it was almost too much sugar. But BYU, after a week of criticism and second-guessing, needed sugar on Tuesday, and Brown pulled up and dumped a Kennecott truckload full.

"BYU has given us so many signature moments, this was an easy thing for us to do," said Brown. "Edwards and BYU football helped put us on the map."

More than a week ago, ESPN columnist Andy Katz said BYU was trying to become the Notre Dame of the West by going independent. Many national media folks poked fun at the notion. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe countered in early August that in no way did BYU have the clout of the Fighting Irish.

But Brown, praising Edwards, begged to differ. In the realm that is college football, BYU's brand is both national and relevant.

And then Holmoe rolled out the news: A six-year contract to play Notre Dame.

Wrote Will Brinson of Fanhouse.com of Brown: "If you read any article about Dave Brown of ESPN, you will quickly learn that he is a) important and b) uninterested in anything other than making the WWL's programming grab a hold of your nodes and make sure that you only watch sports."

I asked Brown if BYU had any business being viewed like a national brand through independence in the shadow of the hallowed one, Notre Dame.

"It's easy. When I think of BYU football, I think of incredible offensive innovation, especially when Norm (Chow) was here, Ty (Detmer), Robbie (Bosco) and Marc Wilson and Sarkisian and Max Hall. To me, that is BYU football and you just think great skill players, great passing attack and exciting football, and I think that's the thing that creates a national brand.

"Sure, there is only one Notre Dame. But in the same sense, there is only one BYU and that's what they stand for, so they'll find a great home like they always have on our broadcast platforms when the big matchups come to town. It gives us a great opportunity to find some broadcast slots so a lot of people can watch those games, and that's our biggest goal."I asked Brown if it were true that some of ESPN's highest-rated games involved BYU.

He couldn't cite all the ratings on the spot, but said last year's BYU-Oklahoma game ranked No. 9 in the rating season, going up against Virginia Tech-Alabama.

"BYU always rates great for us," Brown said. "The Miami game back in the '90s with Ty Detmer did a six rating for us, and the Holiday Bowl games in the '80s did a much higher rating than ESPN had in the regular season."

Back in those days, Brown said, ESPN was behind ABC and CBS in the ratings.

"We were the little guy and we were struggling," he said. "BYU really helped us cement in people's minds that one day we could be one of the big guys in the sport. LaVell and BYU helped us get to the level we are."

Brown said ESPN could pull together games for the Cougars in football and basketball. He refuted the idea that ESPN could take a former broker role to get BYU a BCS slot. He said nothing about unofficial ESPN hierarchy old boy's talk at summer cruises and golf outings with the bigwigs of the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC.

Neither BYU nor Brown talked money figures, but the Oklahoma-BYU game brought the Cougars just over a million dollars. One can guess BYU's future home football games with ESPN (seven to eight a year) will be in the $700,000 to $1.2 million range apiece, with the Notre Dame and Texas games on the high end.

Then there are ESPN broadcasts of BYU home basketball games. You do the math.

And this isn't even talking about BYUtv. By the way, Tuesday's press conference broadcast on BYUtv went across the U.S. and in 150 countries.

Is BYU trying to be the Notre Dame of the West? Heck, no.

But it is an influential Western independent with its own weighty brand. Already, without acting as an independent until 2011, the Cougars have greatly impacted three different conferences in a matter of days.

It is interesting that Notre Dame and Texas both have called BYUtv numerous times in recent weeks inquiring about the new broadcast facility and truck.

In a real sense, BYU rocked the non-automatic qualifying world with an innovated, gutsy plan that is breaking new ground.

Wrote Dennis Dodd of CBS Sportsline.com on BYU's move: "It finally became time to separate itself. ESPN bought in with an eight-year agreement to televise BYU's home games. BYU already has its own network (BYUtv). Now it has its matchmaker. ESPN executive Dave Brown is one of the sport's power brokers when it comes arranging made-for-TV matchups. That will help a lot when it comes to scheduling games. If that sounds a lot like Notre Dame and NBC, you're right."

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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