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Scott D. Pierce: Rejoining MWC doesn't make TV sense for BYU

Published November 20, 2012 3:29 pm

Report • BYU, Mountain West, ESPN, CBS might be able to work things out — but why?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's within the realm of possibility that BYU could somehow work out the TV complications if — as ESPN reported — the Cougars are actually in talks to rejoin the Mountain West.

But strictly in terms of television, it's difficult to imagine why BYU would do that.

BYU has a contract with ESPN that runs through 2018. CBS holds the TV rights to MWC football. But ESPN licensed four games from CBS this year (including BYU-Boise State) so it's possible a deal could be worked out. After all, Fox and ESPN share Pac-12 rights; CBS and ESPN share SEC rights; and so on.

The CBS-ESPN-MWC agreement was just for this season. ESPN's vice president of programming and acquisition, Ilan Ben-Hana, said his network will "re-evaluate for next year" but seemed optimistic. "It's nice having every single [FBS] conference in America represented on our networks, so it would be great if we could get it done again next year."

(That could be good news for Utah State, which is joining the MWC in 2013.)

Even if it's possible, why would BYU want to rejoin the league? It might be a way to better its postseason chances, but it certainly won't help with TV. The MWC can't match what BYU has now.

ESPN's report that Boise State and San Diego State are talking to the MWC makes sense. (BYU, SDSU and BSU have all denied the report.)

Joining the Big East looks shakier by the day. That league is currently negotiating a new TV contract, and the impending loss of Rutgers to the Big Ten, Louisville or Connecticut to the ACC, and possibly other schools means it has little leverage.

At the same time, the Big Ten's move demonstrates what BYU has to do to get invited to a major conference — move the campus to a major TV market or get 10 million people to move to this one.

That point was driven home again this week because there is no other explanation for the Big Ten adding Maryland and Rutgers. None.

All the talk about how BYU has to win its way into a conference (presumably the Big 12) is nothing but hot air. And it offers a small degree of comfort to fans of the 6-5 Cougars.

Dreadful Colorado didn't win its way into the Pac-12. Dreadful Maryland didn't win its way into the Big Ten. Neither did mediocre Rutgers

The Big Ten sees Rutgers and Maryland as a way to add about 15 million homes to its footprint. The Salt Lake market includes 927,000 homes, according to Nielsen. You can argue that BYU's national brand goes beyond that, but it doesn't go anywhere near 15 million homes.

According to Sports Illustrated, those 15 million homes could be worth up to $200 million a year in additional revenue from subscriptions to the Big Ten Network. And more than that when the league renegotiates its primary TV rights in 2017.

That's an unrealistically rosy forecast. Like believing Rutgers is going to get you the New York market.

But that doesn't matter. Big Ten officials believe it.

Does anyone believe there's that kind of TV upside to adding BYU?

Well, there's TV money to be made from a league championship game — think Pac-12 and Utah/Colorado — should the Big 12 decide to go that way.

Other than that … there's no evidence the people making these decisions are looking beyond market size.

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