What will it cost BYU to join the Big 12?
Maybe less than you think.
The Cougars are set to join their new conference in 2023-24, likely a full year ahead of its fellow Big 12 newcomers UCF, Houston and Cincinnati. Those other three schools will reportedly wait to join to avoid hefty exit fees for leaving the American Athletic Conference early.
BYU, as a football independent, isn’t subject to the same financial penalties. The Cougars will have to pay the West Coast Conference a reported $500,000, a paltry sum compared to the $10 million-plus exit fees the AAC schools would owe if they leave without giving 27 months of notice.
The bigger question surrounding the Cougars’ move though was how BYU might navigate its existing contracts for future football games.
The Cougars have games scheduled as far out as 2034, but BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe sounded confident Friday that he would be able to handle those issues without incurring huge costs.
“Probably today we’ll start to work on that. We’ll have to unwind some of those contracts,” he said. “But with each contract that we did from the time we became an independent, there was a clause in it that said, in the event we join a Power Five conference, there would be some type of deal to work out.”
The Tribune reviewed six contracts from teams BYU is playing in 2021. Of those, Boise State is the program with whom BYU has set up the most future games. The Cougars are on contract to play the Broncos 12 more times through 2034.
According to their contract, a school would have to pay $1 million to cancel a game under most circumstances. However, one of the amendments for which the liquidation charges or other fees or costs will not apply is if the defaulting party “made and communicated to the other party within one year after the defaulting party joins an automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series (”BCS”). The contract with Virginia, which BYU will return a home game with next season, however, doesn’t have the same language. That contract states that the canceling party would lose $1 million “unless such cancellation shall be by mutual consent”.
The Cougars will play their existing schedule this season and next before beginning to play a Big 12 schedule in 2023. After that, the Cougars will have some negotiations and decisions to handle as they go through contracts for games scheduled as far out as 2035.
“A lot of these games are going to unwind pretty easily because they’re far enough out,” Holmoe said. “… We’ll want to keep some. It will be a conversation between me and [head football coach Kalani Sitake] to determine whether or not we want to keep some of those games as non-conference games.”
The long-term status of BYU’s broadcast deal with ESPN, meanwhile, is less clear.
“We have a longstanding and very strong contract with ESPN. We have a great relationship,” Holmoe said. “… When we went independent, they were the ones that made that possible.”
BYU will remain under contract with ESPN next season, Holmoe said. But it is unclear what will happen beyond that.
“Those are discussions that will take place in the coming days and weeks and months, to determine how those broadcast rights, and where the Big 12 and BYU decides to go,” he said.