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BYU football: Cougars won't be joining Big East

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 22 2011 6:48 p.m. MST

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Matt Marshall (19) celebrates after scoring as Brigham Young University plays New Mexico State University in football Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, in Provo, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Matt Marshall (19) celebrates after scoring as Brigham Young University plays New Mexico State University in football Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, in Provo, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

PROVO — It appears the Big East's expansion plan to add BYU has fallen apart, and the Cougars have opted to stay the course as an independent in football.

According to multiple sources, negotiations between BYU and Big East have ended — mainly because they can't come to an agreement on television rights.

A source with knowledge of the talks between BYU and the Big East told the Deseret News on Tuesday night that deal is over and that the Big East will invite San Diego State instead, perhaps as soon as Monday.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday "that negotiations between the Big East and Brigham Young have broken off and the school will not be joining the conference."

The Deseret News has reported that BYU, which is in its first year of an eight-year broadcasting deal with ESPN, wanted to retain the television rights for its home football games, and that BYU wanted the ability to leave and take all of its television rights with them if the Big East lost BCS automatic qualifying status, even it the Big East lost it because AQ status was eliminated.

Tuesday afternoon, CBSSportsline.com reported that "unless BYU decides to relinquish its television rights for its home football games, the Cougars likely will not join the Big East. The Cougars have been in discussions with the Big East for weeks about joining the league. However, negotiations between the Big East and BYU have stalled."

One source told CBSSportsline.com: "I doubt BYU (going to the Big East) will happen. They are being extremely unreasonable all of a sudden. This is one reason why they did not get into the Big 12."

One of the reasons why BYU has been exploring its options with the Big East is because the league has BCS AQ status, but that status could change in the near future.

BYU officials did not comment on the reports.

After Tuesday night's practice, coach Bronco Mendenhall said he hadn't heard anything new about the talks between BYU and the Big East. But he reiterated that he likes his program's situation as an independent.

"I'm not sure who in college football knows right now what's going to happen in terms of the BCS," Mendenhall said. "But I love the schedules we're putting together for the future, and I love the chance to partner and be on TV as much as we are. I think it's helping us. I'm very comfortable (with independence) … When you have a good competition level and a good football team, and TV, then you get it all. I think that's what we have."

When BYU announced its plans to go independent in 2010, school officials cited exposure as the main impetus for the move. And BYU football certainly has received unprecedented exposure this season. The Cougars have been on the ESPN family of networks nine times, with two more still to come, including a Dec. 3 game at Hawaii and the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30.

A month ago, the Deseret News reported that the average total audience for the first seven BYU games televised on the ESPN networks was more than 1.2 million households, and over 1.6 million viewers. With ESPN as a partner, the cumulative reach, or potential audience, of its 13 games this season will exceed more than 1.2 billion households.

The Big East's plan had been to invite BYU, Boise State and Air Force as football-only members, and forming a Western division, while SMU, Houston and Central Florida would enter the league as full members with current members Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn, Rutgers, and South Florida.

A source with close ties to Conference USA told the Deseret News on Tuesday, "It appears the BYU and Big East cannot come to terms and the next step is for the league to expand and invite San Diego State."

Another source with knowledge of the talks between BYU and the Big East told the Deseret News, "The issue remains that the Big East wants to work on getting BYU in. They have what they think is a fair deal that shows that if they work together they will make more money off a new TV deal. They are willing to make sure BYU gets as much per game or more than they do now. The BYU lawyers are unwilling to move much. The Big East keeps working to get a deal done. BYU has a problem from the members. You have Georgetown, UConn, Notre Dame and the rest have huge egos and they are growing tired of doing all they can to support BYU ... but it seems it is starting to be too much. One Big East school rep told me, 'BYU does know that (Boise State) is the real prize here, right?' Being part of a conference is working together as one team. For the first time since BYU and the Big East started this process, member schools are wondering why BYU is being so difficult."

The Associated Press reported that "the Big East was trying to add BYU as part of its plan to expand westward and become a 12-team football league. At issue are television rights. The person says BYU wanted to retain the rights to its home football games and the league could not agree to that. No other school in major college football playing in a conference has such a deal."

"If the Big East does not have the television rights to BYU's home games, it would affect the Big East's upcoming negotiations for its new media rights deal with ESPN, NBC-Comcast and/or Fox," wrote Brett McMurphy of CBSSportsline.com. "There are no schools in any of the BCS AQ conferences that retain their home television rights, only those schools that are independents. BYU is in its first year as an independent after leaving the Mountain West and last year signed an eight-year deal with ESPN, which would have to be reworked if the Cougars joined the Big East. The hold-up with BYU has brought the Big East's expansion plans to a standstill. That's because the league wants to announce SMU, UCF, Houston and Boise State as new members together along with either BYU or Air Force or both schools. However, Boise State will not commit to the Big East until it has another Western partner, and Air Force does not plan to make a decision until after the regular season ends on Saturday."

A source with knowledge of the talks between BYU and the Big East told the Deseret News, "Despite the fact the Big East is losing some members, there are some very proud members like Georgetown, Notre Dame and the others are willing to help BYU join their club, but that support is being tested and they are prepared to offer San Diego State the BYU spot if there is not a move toward a partnership ... So the Big East lawyers are doing all they can to make BYU happy while keeping all the members happy. I should say everyone loves the BYU athletic director and president. They like the school and their fans. The lawyers they are not too crazy about."

Contributing: Dick Harmon

Email: jeffc@desnews.com

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