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Dick Harmon: In negotiating with Big East, BYU demands were consistent

Published: Friday, Nov. 25 2011 8:43 p.m. MST

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Matt Marshall (19) scores on a wildcat run 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) scores on a wildcat run as Brigham Young University plays New Mexico State University in football Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, in Provo, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

BYU came out of recent Big East negotiations with a few bruises.

Some say criticism is fair. In many ways, that is correct, in this world of college egos. BYU took the Big East into serious negotiations but at the last minute things fell apart. Many say the school's negotiating team — legal or otherwise — went too far, reached too far, asked too much. Or maybe they were cautious.

Perhaps BYU may have been better served by placing its two most seasoned sports negotiators at the table — pretty boys like alumni Mitt Romney and Dave Checketts. These two have the Olympic Games, NBA, operation of Madison Square Garden and professional soccer under their belts. Perhaps they would have known the words to say in the correct manner and could speak the language of Big East emissary Paul Tagliabue. Maybe they would have been able to compromise and talk pretty and gotten the job done.

The way it went down seven days ago has left many pundits scratching their heads, some with less hair follicles than before.

But the central issue for BYU may be far more simple than business as usual practices, smooth tactics, accepting the expected and going with the flow.

It may have come down to simple BYU consistency.

On Aug. 26, 2004, the MWC reached a seven-year agreement with College SportsTelevision (CSTV) to broadcast games. In those negotiations, and I know this is old news for many, CSTV promised BYU it could retain rights to rebroadcast some games and use its campus broadcast facilities to do so.

In ensuing years, CSTV was purchased by CBS, which later led to an agreement with Comcast in 2006 to help partner up the Mtn. network, the first college conference TV network. Through all these developments, BYU was never granted access to do what was agreed upon before it all began. To put it harshly, somebody lied.

Yes, the MWC and BYU's legal team should have nailed it down in black and white, but they didn't. They shook the hands of TV folks and trusted promises would be honored.

Those promises were never honored.

In the past few years, BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson sat on the board of directors of the MWC and was very vocal in raising his objection that Comcast keep the promise of granting BYU permission to air programming. Phone calls were not returned. In Samuelson's final meeting with MWC presidents, he was very impassioned in arguing his point. His demeanor was intense. Then BYU went independent and he said goodbye.

Now, as an independent, the Big 12 and Big East have come courting. After all the smoke cleared, BYU was not accepted, but was seen as difficult to work with.

Difficult? Or consistent?

Well, consistently difficult, some critics say.

They are right.

If BYU's leadership stood up and made a strong argument with the MWC and its TV partners and then left the league, a league that is now struggling mightily with defections of Utah, BYU, TCU and possibly Boise State and Air Force, then wouldn't it be highly hypocritical of BYU not to stand on the same argumentative points when other leagues make pitches to bring them into their fold?

Some would say, yes, it makes perfect sense.

BYU is often criticized because it stands up for certain things. People make fun of the no Sunday play rule. Center Brandon Davies was made fun of on national TV by comics and ridiculed in Logan for lifestyle choices and discipline. BYU is now criticized for being too rigid to deal with by the Big East. It is going to come.

So, if criticism is going to come, why not be criticized for at least being consistent? The Big East will enter new TV negotiations in a few months and they wanted BYU's TV rights to help keep the bidding high between CBS, ESPN, Fox and Comcast/NBA and maybe Fox.

Two of those entities (CBS sports/College Sports and Comcast/NBA) have already heard BYU's demands as a member of the MWC. It fell on deaf ears. I'm told Comcast, at times, wouldn't even return calls from MWC officials or BYU.

If your future TV partner in the Big East is some of the same crowd who promised and reneged, shook your hand and then lied, then what is your posture going to be this time around in a negotiation? It is likely going to be the same tune and tone.

Many industry experts say Comcast/NBC is the most hungry and eager to obtain Big East TV rights in the upcoming bid war. It is expected Comcast/NBC will throw out some big numbers, thus the need to get a western wing in the Big East with Boise State, BYU, Air Force, SMU, Houston and Central Florida.

BYU could see the value, but it has already operated with some of these folks.

BYU demanded certain things be scratched in stone this time around.

If BYU's current administrators, legal team, or even Romney or Checketts were at the negotiating table, the mannerisms may have varied with the personalities involved but I bet the bottom line would have been the same.

BYU was not going to change what it demanded from the MWC and Comcast, retention of some TV rights.

Otherwise, they left the MWC in a big bind for no reason and a principle they would later abandon with the Big East.

One might say the retention of rights just isn't done these days, that the demand was unreasonable.

Oh, but it did happen last year.

BYU's eight-year deal with ESPN gives the school exactly those TV rights; to rebroadcast every game ESPN airs, a minimum of four a year, and to do home games on BYUtv when ESPN chooses not to do so.

To ask for a similar deal with the Big East may have been a first for a league and a potential member, but it was a consistent request for what had been done with ESPN. The past two years we've seen some unimaginable things transpire in the unstable world of college football.

BYU is consistent, in an arena that right now has no consistency.

It's pretty simple, really.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

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