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Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Is BYU plotting Mountain West escape?

By Jeff Caplan

On July 31, Deseret News columnist Dirk Harmon first explored the possibility of BYU bolting the Mountain West Conference and going independent in football. Sound crazy? Actually Harmon addresses some pretty compelling points, most intriguing of which is BYU's "built-in network and TV facilities, that are very attractive and have never been fully tapped," and is considered light years ahead of the independent network Texas is planning.

On Tuesday night, tremors raced across the Internet as multiple reports -- such as this ESPN.com piece -- based on information from sources suggesting that BYU is seriously exploring an exit strategy from the MWC with plans to go independent in football and join the WAC in all other sports. You might recall that the WAC has yet to fill a vacancy left by Boise State's move to the MWC two months ago. Reports suggest BYU, if convinced leaving is in its best interest, could make the move soon.

From TCU's perspective, losing BYU would be potentially devastating. The MWC is two years away from likely earning BCS automatic qualifier status, which could ultimately compel BYU to stay if it cannot secure a Notre Dame-like situation. The loss of Utah to the Pac-10 followed by BYU, two stalwarts of the conference -- and TCU's only real league rivals -- would leave the MWC scrambling, reduced to eight far-flung schools and the BCS status TCU and coach Gary Patterson so desperately want in imminent danger. This certainly isn't the type of news TCU wants to hear one day after announcing a $105-million stadium renovation project. 

Here's more from Harmon on why BYU could be in position to strike out on its own in today's television revenue-driven world that offers no guarantee of stability:

*A state-of-the-art, high-definition TV studio near completion east of the Marriott Center on campus, one that will rival anything the networks have in media centers in Los Angeles and New York.

*A high-definition TV truck for production and broadcast of sporting events. This truck is the most up-to-date found anywhere in the western United States and a tool ESPN would love to rent for events centered in the West.

*BYU-TV, an up-and-operating station that is available on the basic entry platform of DirecTV and Dish Network and some 200 cable companies worldwide. In the U.S. alone, this represents exposure to 60 million households and an estimated 40 million more in countries in South America. BYU-TV programming has been popular to the cable and dish companies because of its demand and low cost. At present, according to BYU-TV's mission statement, it is a non-commercial, nonprofit TV station, but it does accept sponsorships and contributions.

At present, BYU-TV programming follows a PBS-type format similar to KBYU-TV, only BYU-TV is not a PBS station. BYU-TV does have the ability to split its signal for live programming and aired 60 live sporting events this past year, including NCAA-sanctioned sports, club sports and rugby and women's soccer in HD.

The split signal gives BYU-TV the ability to explore a commercial broadcast aside from PBS-type underwriting. The university is researching legal and licensing issues related to accepting commercial programming.

As shown by the BYU-Oklahoma game in Cowboys Stadium last fall, ESPN is a willing partner in negotiating multimillion-dollar games with BYU for football games outside the Comcast/The mtn. contract held by the MWC for home games. And it doesn't take a brain surgeon to envision BYU/ESPN working on four or five similar games during a season.

Clearly, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson is aware of BYU's exploration and is diligently working to keep BYU in the fold. It is a matter of survival.