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BYU's Taysom Hill (4) avoids the tackle of Houston's Trevon Stewart (23) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Pierce: BYU football facing challenges, but Friday TV isn’t one of them
Sports on TV » 2 conferences won’t count Cougs as a power foe, but TV has nothing to do with it.
First Published May 20 2014 08:26 am • Last Updated May 20 2014 10:16 pm

It’s clear that there are some serious questions about the future of the BYU football program, with all sorts of gray clouds on the horizon.

Well, maybe not so much clouds on the horizon as gale-force hail storms hitting LaVell Edwards Stadium.

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One thing that is not a problem, however, is that this year’s schedule includes three Friday-night games. Which some seem to think is a slap in the face to the Cougars.

(And to Utah State, maybe, because the Aggies also have three Friday-night games.)

Decisions by the ACC and SEC that BYU doesn’t qualify as an opponent that matters are slaps in the face. Friday games are not.

BYU plays at UConn on Aug. 29; vs. Utah State on Oct. 3; and at Boise State on Oct. 24. The last time I wrote about BYU, there were comments about the "dreadful Friday night time slot" and that the "stigma of Friday night games is changing."

That stigma doesn’t extend to Thursday games, apparently, because we’re more accustomed to those.

That Fridays are either dreadful or stigmatized came as a surprise to ESPN.

"I would disagree with the belief Friday is less desirable a window than Thursday," an ESPN spokesman said. "Both attract solid audiences, but Friday is a newer concept than Thursday. And the matchups just get better and better every year, which helps with the viewership."

In 2013, ESPN televised 16 football games on Thursday nights and nine on Friday nights. The Thursday games averaged 2.16 million viewers; the Friday games averaged 1.588 million viewers.

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However, one Thursday game was No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 5 Stanford, which averaged 5.732 million viewers; another was the season-opening North Carolina-South Carolina, which averaged 3.653 million viewers — both far higher than the season average.

If you eliminate those two games, the Thursday and Friday averages are much closer — 1.798 million to 1.588 million.

Clearly, Friday is not yet the premiere spot on ESPN. The cable sports giant is trying to make it one, but this year’s Friday schedule is filled with AAC, C-USA, MAC and MWC teams. However, there is also a Big 12 team, a Pac-12 team and four ACC teams. And five Pac-12 teams and one Big Ten team are playing Friday-night games on other channels.

As to the ACC and SEC, they have mandated that each of their members schedule at least one non-league game each season against a member of a "power conference" — ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 or Notre Dame. And BYU has been left off that list.

That makes it somewhat harder for independent BYU to schedule games, and puts the Cougars on the same level as the Mountain West, MAC, AAC, Conference USA and Sunbelt.

There’s been speculation it has something to do with TV rights — which appears based on rock-solid sources like a Louisville sports-talk radio guy tweeting, "I’m going to assume the ACC’s BYU decision has something to do with BYU retaining its own home television rights."

That makes zero sense. All teams (or the conferences they play in) have the rights to their home games. It’s the same for BYU, Notre Dame, and all members of the Power 5 conferences. So it’s not TV. The ACC and SEC disrespected BYU. And ESPN did not.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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