Pierce: No, ESPN can’t get BYU a better bowl game
Sports on TV • Cable giant helps BYU with schedule, but bowls are a different matter.
Published: April 29, 2014 11:43PM
Updated: April 29, 2014 11:55PM
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Scott D. Pierce

The now-official announcement that BYU is headed to the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl in December elicited predictable responses. Scroll through the comments on Tribune BYU beat writer Jay Drew’s blog and you’ll see Utah fans criticizing another tie to a minor bowl and BYU fans pointing out Utah hasn’t been to a bowl since 2011.

Ho, hum.

It’s also not surprising that there’s some snark in there about the BYU-ESPN relationship. Why can’t the cable giant get the Cougars a better bowl game?

“Remember this coup was lined up for BYU by their buddies at ESPN,” reads one comment. “It’s part of their contract. It sure looks like the ‘Worldwide Leader in Sports’ came through for the Cougars on this one.”

The facts are wrong — ESPN does not line up bowls for BYU — but it’s a legitimate question. Why doesn’t ESPN get BYU a better bowl game?

Quick answers: BYU would prefer a guaranteed bowl 2,500 miles from Provo to the possibility of no bowl at all. And some things are beyond even ESPN’s control.

We’ve been told repeatedly that ESPN is helping BYU build its football schedule. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe has confirmed that. But that’s about regular-season games.

Earlier this week, ESPN broke the news that, pending bowl eligibility, BYU has accepted a bid to play in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl.

It has nothing to do with ESPN. ESPN does not own the Miami Beach Bowl. As of this writing, ESPN does not have a contract to telecast it.

Officially, ESPN has no comment about whether it’s talking to the new bowl about a TV contract. Unofficially, it makes sense.

ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ABC telecast 33 of 35 bowls last season. And the timing of the Miami Beach Bowl — sometime the week before Christmas — comes when there are openings on the TV schedule. ESPN does own seven bowls.

And there are snarky comments on various stories on various websites wondering why it didn’t get BYU into one of those games.

Leaving the snark aside, there are no guaranteed openings in those games. The BVA Compass, Beef ’O’ Brady’s, Las Vegas, New Mexico, Texas and Hawaii Bowls each have tie-ins with two (or more) conferences; the Armed Forces Bowl has a tie to one conference and Army.

It’s possible the Armed Forces Bowl could have an opening if Army does not become bowl eligible. It’s possible one or more of the other games could have openings if one or more of the conferences involved — the AAC, ACC, Big 12, Conference USA, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC — doesn’t have enough bowl-eligible teams.

For that matter, there could be an opening in any of a couple dozen other bowls ESPN will telecast.

But the earliest an opening could come is Oct. 18, if Army opens 0-7. And it’s entirely possible there could be no openings at all, leaving BYU scrambling even if the Cougars rack up 10 or more wins.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that the Miami Beach Bowl against a team from the AAC is great for BYU. But better to make sure you’ve got someplace to go than be left out in the cold.

And there are limitations to what even ESPN can do.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.