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BYU's move to football independence and West Coast Conference membership in all other sports could have been bad. The Cougars could have found themselves without a TV partner and deprived of revenue. They didn't, though, and it's thanks to ESPN.
According to TV by the Numbers, which has a press release, BYU and ESPN have agreed to an eight-year deal beginning in 2011 that gives ESPN exclusive rights to all BYU home football games through 2018, with an option for 2019.
That's a win for BYU, which goes from a team hamstrung by its low-profile TV partners, Versus and The Mtn, to a team closely associated with the biggest name in college football broadcasting. It's only slightly mitigated by the fine print, as BYU play-by-play announcer Greg Wrubell tweets.
Fine print: eight-year deal is for every BYU home football game to be televised live on "ESPN family of networks or BYUTV."
Minimum three games on ESPN/ESPN2/ABC. Additional games on ESPNU. At least one game each season live on BYUTV.
No financial terms have been disclosed, but it's a good bet that ESPN got a deal on a growing power with a national following while BYU got a bigger slice of TV revenue that its previous deal provided.
That's only part of BYU's great day, though: The school also announced a six-game series with Notre Dame that will run through 2020.
For a school that has been arguably the second-best football team in its state for the latter half of the last decade, this is a haul. And because football is still the tail that wags the dog, BYU's non-gridiron programs might also see a surge in cash if the partnership with ESPN proves fruitful.
It's probably a path other schools can't follow—just as Notre Dame leveraged its appeal among Catholics before it, BYU's unique position as a representative of the Church of Latter-Day Saints probably helped secure this deal—but it's certainly one that looks to be the right road at this moment.
The San Jose Mercury News is first out of the gate in reporting that, as speculated, BYU will indeed pursue independence as a football program. Less certain was the fate of the university's remaining sports programs, but the Cougars will deal both the Mountain West and the WAC a blow, choosing to align themselves instead with the West Coast Conference:
The move, which takes effect for the 2011-12 season, changes the face of major college sports in the western third of the country — weakening the Mountain West (BYU’s current home) and strengthening the WCC, whose members include three Bay Area schools: Santa Clara, St. Mary’s and USF.
(It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this development for the WCC, which is about to begin renegotiating its ESPN contract.)
Culturally, it's a good fit for BYU; the WCC includes a host of smaller religious institutions. They'll have good competition in basketball with frequent March Madness darlings like St. Mary's and Gonzaga in the mix. Clearly, the Cougars have come out on top. The loser here is ... well, everybody else.
September 1st is the deadline for BYU to tell the Mountain West what their intentions are if they are to stay in the Mountain West or decide to go independent in football and join either the WAC or the WCC in their other sports. The board of trustees that includes members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who own the University have given BYU the go ahead and choose the option that is most beneficial for the school:
BYU President Cecil Samuelson presented several scenarios to the school's board of trustees, comprised of the LDS Church's First Presidency, members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and other high-ranking church officials, Thursday and received approval to proceed with whichever route he sees as "most beneficial" to the mission of the church and the school, a source told The Tribune.
A lot of news has gone done the last week from emails being released about 'The Project', the WAC trying to steal UNLV and San Diego State, and now there is the news that the WAC is now demanding the $5 million exit penalty from Nevada and Fresno State.
This issue still revolves around what BYU wants to do regarding their football program. There are only three options: stay in the Mountain West, join a watered down WAC in non-football sports, or do the same with the West Coast Conference.
The Cougars are still unhappy with the current Mountain West television deal and they want more exposure which can be achieved by leaving the Mountain West which will allow them to be on ESPN and their very own in house network BYU-TV. With the recent news of Karl Benson enforcing the buy out penalty to Nevada and Fresno State make me think that BYU is heading to the WAC. Whatever BYU decides this soap opera will be ending by Wednesday night September 1st when a decision must be made, and then we can start actually talking about actual football games.
The details are sparse and they come from Natalie Meilser who is a long time reporter for Colorado State for The Denver Post:
I'm hearing from a number of sources that the Mountain West/BYU impasse could be resolved as soon as Thursday with all indications that the Cougars will remain in the MWC.
BYU beat writer Jay Drew from The Salt Lake Tribune contacted Meisler and was able to get more information on the topic:
Reached by telephone Wednesday night, Meisler stressed that "it is not 100 percent" certain that the issue has been resolved, but that "I feel good about it."
She said her sources are schools "in and out of the league" and that there are at least three sources telling her the deal is headed in this direction.
So, the key question is what type of concession will the Mountain West make to BYU regarding the television deal. In the Memorandum of Understanding, details came out that BYU would not only keep all money for games on BYU-TV, but they would also show WAC championship events that were not being aired on ESPN. That concession seems fair for BYU and the Mountain West, since even with their current television deal not all postseason events are on any of the three league networks.
Dick Harmon from the Deseret News has covered sports in the state of Utah for a long time sent out this tweet shortly after the news came about the possibility of BYU staying in the Mountain West.
MWC commissioner Craig Thompson had his own teleconference Thursday, and SBN's Mountain West Connection confirms that yes, absolutely no one has any idea where BYU will land in all this:
The big thing I noticed from the teleconference was that how evasive he was about BYU's situation and keep saying 'you will have to talk BYU about that.'
He had many chances to confirm something going on with BYU but kept deferring to BYU and repeated that as of this time they are a full fledged member of the Mountain West conference. He also said BYU has not talked to him or any MWC officials about BYU leaving the league in 2011, again I doubt that because BYU wanted to keep this quiet.
The one big thing that Thompson was insistent on was that he would not be giving any special concession to BYU to keep them in the league.
And listen along to Karl Benson's teeth grind as Thompson talks about the "lucrative" (and mysterious!) incentives that lured in Fresno State and Nevada:
Not sure what that means, but it may have something to do with the $5 million exit penalty by the schools. [...] Plus, there is an entry fee to join the Mountain West so who knows if that will be waived. It is not as if the Mountain West is rolling in cash, so not sure what incentives they could be offering. Perhaps BCS status in the near future, but that is something that can not be guaranteed and without BYU no chance in that.
What, indeed? Wine? Women? Paying them in hugs? Speculate away, although if the speed of this particular conference expansion has been any indication, we won't be speculating for long.
Commissioner Karl Benson spoke to reporters for over an hour Thursday morning, amid the smoking ruins of the would-be WAC. Fed up with the summer game of Conference Expansion Red Rover, Benson's opening salvo was brimming with high dudgeon:
He opened the call by calling Fresno State and Nevada "selfish" and said he "disappointed" in their actions.
Compared to the glowing terms even conference officials who hate each other normally couch their resentment in, this is the bureaucratic equivalent of setting somebody's car on fire.
And what of those nasty rumors concerning Nevada's checkbook?
During the mayhem on Wednesday that saw Nevada and Fresno State bolt the WAC to agree to join the Mountain West Conference, news also broke of an agreement that WAC schools had recently signed that called for a reported $5 million buyout clause if any school decided to leave.
According to Nevada president Milt Glick, his school never signed the agreement.
True, says Benson, who called it a "recording error," but also said he wants Nevada to honor the verbal agreement and pay up within 60 days. Oh, and the few remaining members of the salted-earth conference are cut loose, which totally bodes well for the conference's future:
He said the current six members are not subject to the agreement any longer.
Speaking of that buyout agreement, as we speculated last night, it seems that BYU was indeed behind the ultimately futile efforts to shore up the foundations of the conference it was planning to bolt to:
Benson said the decision to ask for a $5 million buyout came from him and BYU.
"BYU recognized the need for the binding agreement to protect against exactly what happened," Benson said.
This is about where I start to wonder where Karl Benson gets off calling other people sneaky, but whatever. Is BYU still even within your grasp, Commish?
“At this point, I have no idea what they’re going to do. I would hope that the WAC is still an option for BYU and that no door has been closed.”
Greeeat. Options to replace the dearly departed?
Benson said the league will look at Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision teams in expansion.
He added that teams closer to Louisiana Tech might be of more interest in the new WAC, mentioning Texas-San Antonio and Texas State as possibilities.
All right, now's about where I start to understand why Benson's so crabby this morning. And it may get worse, still: SBN's Mountain West Connection is predicting BYU gets cold feet and sticks with the MWC, which will then add Houston to make a 12-team mighty-mid. Crazy, sure, but this is the summer of the conference do-si-do, and changing partners is just the fashionable thing to do.
SBN's Blogging the Bracket examines the possible impact of all the moves BYU could make as it moves toward football independence and basketball who-knows-ness:
1) The member conference must include seven core institutions.
The WAC is covered if BYU joins. If they don't, the conference must expand.
2) For the purposes of this legislation, core refers to an institution that has been an active member of Division I the eight preceding years.
Again, the WAC is in good shape, as BYU, Hawai'i, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Utah State are all longtime members of D-I.
3) Further, the continuity-of-membership requirement shall be met only if a minimum of six core institutions have conducted conference competition together in Division I the preceding five years in men's basketball.
Hawai'i, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Utah State barely meet this qualification, as they first competed together in the WAC during the 2005-2006 academic year. The 2009-10 season marked five years.
4) Any new member added to a member conference that satisfies these requirements shall be immediately eligible to represent the conference as the automatic qualifier.
Basically, if BYU joins, they're immediately eligible to win the WAC's AQ.
If BYU jumps to the WCC, however, things get dicier in a hurry. Read the rest at Blogging the Bracket.
Washington State blog CougCenter doesn’t see any winners in today’s conference reshuffling that saw BYU leave the MWC while Nevada and Fresno State jumped ship from the WAC to the MWC.
None of this means the MWC is in better shape than it was a few days ago. In losing BYU and Utah, the MWC likely also lost the automatic qualifier tag they were oh-so-close to picking up. Adding BSU helps, but Nevada and Fresno State do little to bolster the MWC’s position in the AQ bid formula. Without a bid, the MWC seems destined to keep a middling TV contract and small streams of revenue comparatively.
In the end, nobody wins this round of conference realignment. Following in the steps of the Pac-10 and trying to dissolve competitors conferences hurts these mid-majors. Once on the doorstep of legitimacy, the MWC found itself scrambling to replace two cornerstone programs. The WAC lost it’s best football program while serving as little more than a placeholder BYU before losing two more members and being crippled.
Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician says there is a winner in the demise of the MWC…The Big East Conference.
The Big East doesn’t do anything proactively to protect itself…but then again it looks like it doesn’t have to.
Fact: The Mountain West has been considered a better football conference than the Big East for the past five years. You can probably give me stats and bowl games and attendance numbers that say otherwise but perception is reality.
Big East officials like to talk about how even and strong the conference is from top to bottom. But parity doesn’t get people excited. You know what does? Being elite. Going undefeated. Being ranked among the best teams in the nation. And that’s where the MWC (and new member Boise State) has been drop-kicking the Big East for the last few years.
Mountain West Connection wonders if Fresno and Nevada’s move to the MWC might end up bolstering the conference so much that BYU renegs on its independence? Was this just a ploy to get the conference to make the jump to 12 teams and improve its TV deal? That remains to be seen.
BCS Evolution looks at how the realignment affects the MWC's and WAC's chances of joining the BCS. The MWC is still in decent shape but the WAC has pretty much dropped to the back of the line.
Let's be perfectly clear on this point. Fresno State and Nevada have very little impact on the MWC's BCS numbers. I will have the final numbers up once the final announcements settle and the rumors die down.
BYU, Fresno State nor Nevada were higher than Boise State in either of the past two years, so the highest ranked team metric will be unchanged. The MWC would lose some computer strength, but still gain on their next closest conference, the WAC, in the average ranking metric. The WAC would likely fall behind C-USA. In the top 25 performance metric the MWC would fall from #1 to #5, but be near 70% of the top team, well over the 50% cutoff.
The MWC would still be in the spot of being eligible for an exemption to an automatic qualification with a diminished, yet still strong, case.
More updates and reaction to come on Thursday.
The West Coast Conference is trying to get in on the conference realignment action with an attempt at securing BYU for non-football membership. The WAC sits currently at six basketball members; it takes eight teams for a conference to gain an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
Here is where the WCC swoops in with an offer to the Cougars:
WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich told ESPN.com early Wednesday the league would be interested in pursuing BYU for all sports except football. Zaninovich said BYU would fit well with the other church-based institutions in the eight-team league. Zaninovich told ESPN.com he reached out to BYU but hasn't heard back.
This would certainly boost the basketball prowess of a conference that already has a few good teams in Gonzaga and St. Mary's, and as for BYU, this makes some sense if they are truly going to leave the Mountain West.
UPDATE: Apparently the WAC would still be able to keep their auto-bid status in basketball with only six members.
In order to leave the WAC, Fresno State and Nevada will have to pay the conference a cool $5 million each. It's a price tag neither cash-strapped department can well afford, agreed upon after Boise State's defection. And it's a curiously-timed stipulation that, if "sources" are to be believed, has fat Cougar pawprints all over it:
The schools made the buyout move to keep other members from following the Broncos to the Mountain West. According to sources close to the situation, BYU wanted the buyout agreement reached to ensure the WAC would remain strong if the Cougars returned to the league in all sports but football.
God-dang, BYU. That is some craftiness, particularly coming on the heels of a season where Max Hall was made to apologize for using the vile epithet of "classless" after a rivalry game. Trés polite, no?
And how is SBN's Mountain West community coping with this stinger? Oh, about like this:
It would appear that BYU stabbed the MWC in the back long before stabbing the conference in the heart today. In a perfect world the MWC would like to add Fresno State and Nevada and move on.
Et tu, BYU? This betrayal will not be forgotten and just remember "karma is a b****!"
I'm never sure quite what asterisked words are supposed to mean, but rest assured: Rivalry games in the wild west just got a whole new kind of interesting.
The Reno Gazette-Journal is citing multiple sources claiming Nevada will join the Mountain West for the 2011 season, leaving BYU with an extremely bare toy cupboard in the now-beleagured WAC:
Nevada will join in-state rival UNLV and current WAC foe Boise State in the MWC, which also invited Fresno State to join the conference in 2011.
Brigham Young University's decision to consider being an independent in football and a member of the Western Athletic Conference in all other sports seems to have spurred all the movement.
Say this for mid-major expansion: It's proving a lot more straightforward and headache-free than all that nonsense earlier this summer with the BCS outfits. Nevada school officials have scheduled a press conference for later this evening.
Well. We got ourselves the makin's of a real-live shootout in the American West, with an amount of offense you usually only catch on fall Saturdays on ESPN after 11 at night. Via the Fresno Bee comes the report that Fresno State will accept the Mountain West's invitation to leave the WAC:
Fresno State's decision is independent of whether BYU leaves the Mountain West Conference. The source said that BYU is considering playing football as an independent because the Mountain West would not commit to the school over the next five seasons, while also granting the school the right to leave at any time for better opportunities.
An official announcement is expected later this evening.
Just in time to interfere with all the actual games we're about to have to cover, here come the ripples from BYU's Mountain West defection, with official confirmation that where the WAC has struck, the MWC will strike back with a quickness:
Where one normal-sized program leaves, it appears two snack-sized schools will serve to fill the gap. The impact on the WAC would be decidedly inconvenient:
It also would reduce the WAC to six schools in football - Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Utah State. Eight schools are required to be considered a football conference.
If Boise State sticks with its plan to hop to the Mountain West this year (which theoretically could still not happen), by the time this round settles we'll have a 10-team WAC (although ruling this possibility out would be a grave mistake at this early stage). Buckle up, and let's all share an exasperated sigh together as we rejoin the carousel of progress.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, it’s done: BYU will join the WAC in all sports but football, and let the football program play as an independent. Beginning in 2011 the Cougars will leave the Mountain West and play an independent football schedule, but with the concessionary wrinkle that they will play four games with WAC teams on their schedule.
The move to independence means more freedom for BYU in terms of scheduling, but more importantly allows them to improve on the relatively small sum of money they received from the Mountain West’s custom network: $2 million in total for 2009, a sum BYU could easily make up and surpass in independent deals.
As for the implications for the Mountain West? Just a major member with national brand recognition leaving the fold and potentially opening the door for new recruit Boise State to leave the conference before they ever start in the league, as cannily noted in the Trib article.
BYU may be coming to the WAC and leaving the Mountain West while going independent in football, according to multiple sources. The arrangement would allow BYU to go after its own television contract while still ensuring conference matchups for non-revenue sports, an arrangement very similar to the one Notre Dame has with the Big East.
According to ESPN's Andy Katz's sources, the move is all but a done deal.
"I'm not sure how it could stop now unless BYU gets nervous," said one source with knowledge of the situation.
News at this point is largely confined to anonymous sources, though Colorado State's official feed did go live last night with the news that BYU would not only be joining the WAC, but would also announce the move at a press conference on Thursday morning. This was later deleted from the feed. Colorado State officials later told Bruce Feldman that they believe the account was hacked, and that the story is not an official statement by the university.
More to follow, but for for those who thought conference expansion was completely done this is a reminder that the ground is continually shifting in college football. Place your tent stakes carefully, and be ready to move in a hurry.
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