BYU and The Big 12: How Close Was It…


Editors Note: Yeah I’m writing about BYU, it’s summertime and there isn’t much else to do.  Utah football is stable, which is great but doesn’t give you much to write about in the off-season.

An interesting blog came out a week or so ago giving the “Inside” version of what happened between BYU and the Big-12.  For everyone interested, here is the link.

Now, I don’t know the author, but it is a good read.  And it is clear he is connected, at least to BYU people who want to get their version of things out there.  But if this is the version of things that BYU wants to pitch, it raises a few questions.  So I talked to a few people, I know in the Big 12 area.  I talked to a few others who know what it is like to deal with BYU in contract negotiations.   A few questions came to mind so I thought I’d try to answer them here.

1. BYU and the MWC TV deal they are so fond of bitching about?

2. BYU and it’s ESPN deal.

3. The claim in the article that everything was nearly done but the Sunday play issue.

4. How difficult is BYU to deal with?

BYU and the MWC TV Deal

Having some knowledge of both the formation of the SuperWAC, the move to the MWC and the MWC’s move from ESPN to the MTN, one factor is at the forefront of all of these issues, BYU was a major or thee driving force in all of them.  Here are some facts.

1.  The SuperWAC happened because the WAC A.D.’s and presidents couldn’t come to a decision on who to add.  BYU was a big factor in this because they wanted the Texas schools under the belief that Texas would become a hot new recruiting bed for them.  With New Mexico and UTEP supporting them, they were a big part creating a stalemate and everyone coming to the compromise solution of 16.

2. BYU was one of the major forces to form the MWC as many of the dreams they had for a SuperWAC were not going to come true.

3. BYU was a serious backer of moving away from ESPN.  They had grown tired of odd start times. If you recall, they complained incessantly about Saturday-Monday basketball.

Now their big issue is that somehow they got screwed out of the right to rebroadcast games on KBYU.  Now I have no idea why this is a big deal to them but it is.  So here is my question, why didn’t appear anywhere in the contract?  In fact, it is never ever talked about until after the MTN is already broadcasting, and BYU is claiming they were screwed. There was an easy fix to this. If BYU has any evidence that they were promised this, sue or at least threaten to.  BYU did neither.  And seriously don’t give me BYU didn’t want litigation.

So what do we take away from this.  That it is all crap.  BYU clearly didn’t ask for this and only sought it after the fact.

BYU and It’s ESPN Deal

This section has to be a great lesson in why you must never negotiate from a place of panic.  In fact someone should write a book about this one.  Utah gets accepted to the Pac-12 and it seems BYU freaks out.  The writer of this article admits that BYU signed a deal without an out clause.  Did BYU’s attorneys go to law school?

While the Big 12 walked itself back from the bring of destruction, it was clear college football was an unstable changing landscape (except for the Big 10 and Pac 12, thank you St. Larry).  It was clear to anyone on the planet BYU wouldn’t be getting Notre Dame privileges.  How do they not seek an out-clause for a Big 12 invitation?  Either they did, ESPN refused and they were so freaked out by Utah going to the Pac-12 that just lept.  Or they simply didn’t ask and ESPN’s lawyers were giggling.

Either way, between the the MTN thing and this, BYU’s attorneys are essentially guilty of malpractice.

BYU and Sunday Play

Now the author of this article is trying to say that the Big 12 thing was almost done except for the 11th hour issue of Sunday play.  Quite frankly this seems hard to believe.  I’ve done some negotiating and I know people familiar with TV negotiations and an issue like Sunday Play would almost certainly be one of the first addressed.  Because if you can’t give BYU no Sunday play, there is no point in going on.  So if the Big 12 entered into serious negotiation with BYU, it is certain they went to Fox and ESPN to make sure that issue wouldn’t be a problem.

It’s quite frankly not believable that Sunday Play was an 11th hour hang up.  What does make sense is one of two things.  Either BYU’s attorneys played fast and loose with the Sunday issue, thinking they could close it at the end and leaving Fox to believe BYU was willing to bend (will discuss this issue in the next section).  Or it wasn’t really an issue at all.  The real issue was the TV deal with ESPN.

Now this part is speculation, but ESPN believes it got a pretty sweet deal with BYU.  Live football draws better than moto-cross or whatever ESPN would throw up.  Plus there were rumors that BYU is covering production costs for BYU games in Provo, making showing games from there cheap.  Plus BYU was a bit of a draw for when they play the lesser schools ESPN has a contract with, meaning they could show Idaho without it being a total loss.  The quick way of saying this is that BYU signed up to be ESPN’s bitch.

However there is no way was the Sunday play issue an 11th hour hang-up.

How Difficult Is BYU To Deal With?

Well one only needs to ask any of the former MWC schools that question.  The stories I’ve heard are pretty legendary.  So when one Big 12 source called BYU’s Counsel, “a piece of work,” it is believable.  In this article, the author wants to brush by this, with a quote about “rigidity,” and then trying to save face by saying the negotiations are ongoing.

My understanding is vastly different.  BYU approached the Big 12 acting as if it had the power and that the Big 12 needed BYU.  Which is why maybe they did play fast and loose with the Sunday play issue thinking they would close the deal.  I’m told by people who have dealt with BYU they have a reputation for making 11th hour demands that were never on the table.  One person called them, “lying bastards.”  Whatever the case, they’ve become somewhat of a punch line in a variety of Big 12 cities, with not many kind words remaining.

I’m told they poured gas all over those bridges, lit the match and there will be no going back.

So What Does It All Mean

I think there are two conclusions.  One is that BYU has really terrible lawyers, which is surprising because they have a very good law school.  This story is a tale of one mistake after another.

The second is, they couldn’t have done a worse job of reading the changes in college football.  They seemed genuinely surprised by Utah joining the Pac-12.  Then they panicked and signed a deal that ESPN was quite happy to sign.  That deal became a big part of them not getting into the Big 12 along with their own arrogance.

Now the thing about BYU is that nothing is fatal to that football program until the folks in downtown Salt Lake City say its fatal.  But for the time being, they’ve forced themselves into irrelevance.  Essentially, they are the most well funded exhibition team in America.

And I wonder how long anyone can seriously carry on like that.