Is BYU's football scheduling agreement with Notre Dame in jeopardy?
Update: Acting upon a request for answers from The Salt Lake Tribune, BYU Associate Athletic Director for Communications Duff Tittle issued the following statement Wednesday evening regarding Notre Dame's announcement: "Like most universities, BYU continues to monitor the ever-changing landscape of college athletics, including today's announcement by Notre Dame. BYU is pleased with its status as an independent football program."
For BYU football fans, the announcement today that fellow football independent Notre Dame will join the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football and hockey should probably set off an alarm or two. Yes, Notre Dame is staying independent in football, but it has agreed to play five football games a year against ACC schools, beginning in 2014. So it is kind of an affiliate member of the ACC in football, much like BYU is tied to the WAC its first two years of football independence because of the scheduling agreement with that conference that BYU AD Tom Holmoe worked out when the Cougars ventured out on their own. So what happens to the six-game series that BYU and Notre Dame agreed to play between the years 2012 and 2020? Will the Irish ever visit Provo again? Don't be surprised if Notre Dame tries to get out of the four final games of the deal, games that have been agreed upon, but not yet scheduled. Certainly, the Cougars and Irish will play Oct. 20 in South Bend, and on Nov. 23, 2013 in South Bend. The remaining four games are far from certain now. That's pretty much what Dennis Dodds of CBSsports.com noted in this piece, saying that he's learned that Notre Dame will "maybe have to buy out existing contracts to balance its schedule." Syracuse has a pending four-year contract with Notre Dame in the future, Dodds says. And so does BYU. I asked BYU officials for a reaction to the Notre Dame news as it pertains to their future scheduling agreement with the Irish. Duff Tittle, BYU Associate Athletic Director for Communications, texted back that BYU will "likely" have a brief statement on the development later today. Certainly, Notre Dame would be expected to give up its deal with BYU before it gives up longstanding rivalries with USC and Stanford, especially with Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick saying today that the school wants to keep its presence on the West Coast. Then there are the traditional games against Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and the service academies, Army and Navy. My hunch is that those are more important to Notre Dame than BYU as well, although Notre Dame officials have said they want to play more games outside of the states of Michigan and Indiana, not fewer. "It's hard to get into too much detail until we really work through it," Swarbrick said in a news conference Wednesday. "It is important to us to get out to the West Coast annually, and as everyone close to Notre Dame knows, the tradition of playing Navy is important and has deep roots. Those are probably building blocks. Beyond that, we have to work through it over time." Notre Dame's move to the ACC also includes some bowl tie-ins and probable better access to the upcoming four-team college football playoff, and that is being interpreted by some as a sign that football independence in the era of a college football playoff won't work. For instance, ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel tweeted: "Now you just can't stay independent anymore .... times have changed." In addition to the potential loss of its future deal with Notre Dame, BYU could also be indirectly effected by today's news because the expanded ACC is moving to a nine-game schedule (announced a few months ago), making it that much harder for BYU to find opponents in November. With Notre Dame out of the Big East, it seems more and more unlikely that BYU will be interested in joining the league that will include Boise State and San Diego State for football only next year, although the Irish obviously didn't play football in the Big East. But the Cougars can probably expect more overtures from the Big East, which has to be reeling with this latest setback even if it doesn't effect football. As former Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said on ESPNU today: The Big East "need(s) BYU right now. They need answers, and BYU is probably one." So is Notre Dame's move bad news for BYU? Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! doesn't think so. His take is that "Notre Dame's independence and BYU's independence are too entirely different things." Writes Wetzel: "So the assumption that Notre Dame's move shows that independence can't be done anymore isn't necessarily the case. BYU can do it because of its flexibility in picking opponents. BYU could join the Big East if it chose (and if it's invited), but only if it feels like it's the best strategy. Besides, one of BYU's unique purposes is promoting the Mormon Church. Independence may behoove that."