PROVO — As BYU enters its ninth season of independence, athletic director Tom Holmoe, coach Kalani Sitake as well as various assistant coaches and players will field questions about the state of the football program at Media Day festivities Tuesday at the BYU Broadcasting Building.
Among the expected major topics of conversation — BYU’s contract status with ESPN and the health of quarterback Zach Wilson.
When the Cougars announced they were going independent in football in August 2010, they also announced an eight-year deal with ESPN to televise their home games.
At Media Day two years ago, Holmoe announced ESPN had exercised its option on the contract to extend broadcasting rights of BYU home football games through the 2019 campaign. For now, that deal is set to expire at the end of this season.
Holmoe has indicated on several occasions that BYU and ESPN have been in both informal and formal contract negotiations the past couple of years. He’s always been adamant that the school will continue its partnership with ESPN beyond 2019.
The contract with ESPN is the linchpin of BYU’s independence. ESPN provides the Cougars with relevance by showing games to a national television audience, assists in the scheduling of games with storied opponents, and secures bowl game destinations.
BYU and ESPN have enjoyed a longstanding partnership, dating back 35 years. ESPN's first live regular-season college football broadcast was BYU's upset of No. 3 Pittsburgh on Sept. 1, 1984. That win helped springboard the Cougars to the eventual national championship that season.
Even after BYU posted an abysmal 4-9 record in 2017, Holmoe said the school’s relationship with ESPN remained strong.
“ESPN has a longer range view of what BYU football is about,” Holmoe said last year.
An announcement about a contract extension could come Tuesday. If that happens, how long will the contract be? Will there be changes to the arrangements, such as the possibility of BYU games being broadcast on ESPN Plus, which requires a subscription?
Meanwhile, everyone wants to know about Wilson’s right shoulder.
Wilson, who started seven games as a true freshman in 2018 after replacing Tanner Mangum midway through the season, capping the year with an 18-for-18 passing performance in a resounding bowl win over Western Michigan, underwent shoulder surgery last winter, sidelining him for spring practices.
In March, Wilson said he expected to be at full strength when BYU opens camp in late July ahead of the season opener Aug. 29 against Utah.
Wilson’s shoulder injury resulted due to overuse, going back to his high school career.
“After games, it was super sore. It seemed like it maybe was progressively getting worse. But it didn’t affect me in any way throwing,” he said. “In a game, I don’t think I ever noticed it once. I never had a throw where I was like, ‘Wow, that hurt my shoulder.’ You had the adrenaline flowing.
“It was mostly practices and throughout the week where it was just taking hits in the games and getting beat up,” he continued. “Then the day after the game, it was hurting. I figured that this is something, even if I could have fought through it now, it’s something I should get fixed now. Better to do it now than down the road.”
Wilson's recovery appears to be progressing. A video was posted on social media Sunday of Wilson throwing with his dad, Mike.
Another topic of discussion Tuesday could be Sitake’s contract situation. Following that 4-9 campaign in 2017, Sitake led the Cougars to a 7-6 mark in 2018 and many have wondered if he would be granted an extension.
Sitake has posted a record of 20-19 in three seasons at the helm.
“We have a plan and a process that we go through. This isn’t his last year,” Holmoe said in January. “We’ve rarely gone into the last year of a contract (without an extension). He has more than one year left on his contract. We talk all the time … We talk about all kinds of things. I know exactly where he stands and he knows exactly where I stand. We don’t talk about it. It’s not an issue.”