Provo • Nearly two months after the news was first announced, the T’s have been crossed and the I’s dotted on BYU’s new seven-year broadcasting deal with ESPN.
What took so long in between? The details, of course.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said Thursday during a media roundtable that most of the delay centered around BYU’s future bowl tie-ins with the sports network — and the desire to sign both the TV rights and bowl deals simultaneously.
“We didn’t want to sign one without working out the details of the other, and vice versa,” Holmoe told reporters. “The bowl games were actually quite a bit more complex than the rights agreement.”
Terms of the twin deals were not disclosed.
The bowl agreements actually come through two separate agreements. The first is for BYU to participate in three ESPN owned and operated bowl games in 2020, 2022 and 2024. In a separate deal, the Cougars are slated to appear in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. in 2021, 2023, 2025.
All postseason games, of course, are contingent on the Cougars qualifying for postseason play, meaning at least six wins per season.
For a program that will start its 10th season of football independence this fall, Holmoe said the new bowl tie-ins are essential.
While ESPN Events runs and operates some bowl games, while the network only broadcast others, Holmoe said the relationship with ESPN is optimal for them as an independent.
“There was no way I would have done it differently,” Holmoe said.
While the Cougars are set for the postseason for the next six years (assuming they are bowl eligible), it is not completely set in stone. Each bowl game agreement has a one-year opt-out clause that would allow BYU to play in the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix, which has a large Cougar fan base.
Holmoe hopes that's the plan in regards to the Independence Bowl. And maybe even with the other bowl agreement.
“It gives us some flexibility,” Holmoe said. “I think that I feel good about being able to play down there three years, but we're thinking it'll probably be two in the Independence Bowl and at least one in Arizona, because another one in Arizona could potentially come from an ESPN Events bowl.”
As far as the 2020 bowl tie-in, Holmoe said they won't know right away.
BYU’s 14-year athletic director said he essentially works as a commissioner when it comes to deciding or working to get a bid from a particular bowl. But really, it comes down to how the Cougars perform this upcoming season.
Last year, after getting a couple of big overtime wins against Tennessee and USC in the early part of the season, it sparked a few “what if” conversations in September. What if BYU would have closed out on an eight-game winning streak and would have racked up 10 wins in the season? Could BYU have found itself in a top-tier bowl game?
The conversations quieted down before getting too serious, so Holmoe never really got into the thick of it, but he said the team's performance will play into what bowl game ESPN decides to invite BYU to.
“So, I would imagine, depending on how we start this season would depend on how those conversations will go,” Holmoe said.
On Wednesday, BYU released it’s finalized 2020 schedule, which includes three teams that finished in the top 25 and six Power 5 schools. Holmoe said, maybe on paper, it could be the Cougars’ toughest schedule ever. But nothing will be known until games start getting underway.
When it comes to scheduling, that's what Holmoe wants. He wants games that will keep BYU relevant in the world of college football.
Holmoe said could have scheduled 10 wins, but that’s not what he wants for the program.
“Scheduling a schedule like this year has a purpose — it’s intentional,” Holmoe said. “… And I don’t go after teams that I know we can beat and load up the schedule, because then the attendance would drop. Even if we won 10 or 11 games, I think people might be yawning.”
On why he extended football coach Kalani Sitake’s contract when he did:
“I think my experience being around him, being around the team, being around all aspects of the program and the organization – he's the right coach for the job. Whether it was the week we did it or it could have been the week before or the month before or the week after or the month after,I don't think, really, that was that important. Certainly, it could have been – the right day of the year or the right day of the contract – but I just feel that when it happened ended up being the right time for the program.”
On the missing Notre Dame home game:
“I really can say that there’s been discussions this past year during the football season. Duff will probably kick me in the shin for saying this, but just to kind of keep it alive, because it is alive. I think people [have begun to wonder] if we have a contract with them. … But I think one of the things we’re looking at right now, realistically, … They owe us a home football game. We’ve had a couple discussions about making that a neutral football game, where now we would be the home game of that. But it would be a neutral game. It’s interesting that they’re intrigued by that, but we can’t really agree on where that neutral game will be played. So, the saga continues.”
On the Cougars inconsistent 2019 season:
“That's something that we need to continually work on. From the time we got into the locker room after the game, on the plane flying home, on the tarmac when we landed to almost daily or weekly, Kalani has been using me as a resource, and many others, to get better and iron out those inconsistencies. Some people want to put a steak in the ground and say 'this is one we have to fix right now.' I'm not going to say those.”
On whether making it into a Power 5 conference remains BYU’s goal: