Escaping The Muck: Saving BYU's Reputation and maximizing BYU's revenue

Tobi WritesAnalyst IAugust 31, 2010

SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 17:  Max Hall #15 of BYU Cougars runs the ball and avoids getting tackeled by Miles Burris #9 of San Diego State Aztecs at Qualcomm Stadium on October 17, 2009 in San Diego, California. BYU Cougars defeated the Aztecs 38-28  (Photo by Jacob de Golish/Getty Images)
Jacob de Golish/Getty Images

(BYU joined the WCC as I was finishing editing this Bleacher Report.  Please see post script following this report.)

This is the second Bleacher Report in a two part series of dealing with BYU and WAC D-Day.  The first dealt with reports that BYU is considering joining the West Coast Conference.  This one deals with what might be the best scenario BYU to extract itself from this ugly business with some dignity, some perceived morality, plenty of strong advocates at Universities at the Division I level ...and the most money possible.

Where things stand today

If the WAC does not get BYU to agree to leave the MWC by the upcoming deadline, they may lose another member, leading to a fatal collapse.

BYU has been outed as a self-serving, self-centered entity.

BYU, of course, like Texas, Michigan, USC, and other powers, always was, but the existence of the "Gang of 5" (BYU, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado State, and Air Force) voting block in the MWC created the perception BYU was in a partnership to get them all into the BCS.

The details of the BYU/Utah State/WAC talks have stripped away that sunshiny veneer. BYU is as much of a self -serving manipulator as UT - just as willing to sell out longtime partners to reach its goals.

That was always the reality of BYU. To not have noticed it should really be all on the MWC membership, not BYU.  Did they not know they were little fish sharing a big fish's pond?  Really?

As big power-brokers go, BYU is extremely reasonable.  But today none of that matters.  Relationships with the MWC membership have been deeply damaged making staying in the conference an unpleasant experience.

And of course there is the fact that BYU is only making a fraction of what they would make as an independent as a member of the MWC.

The MWC membership may get hacked off about it, but the equivalent would be the Big 12 expecting UT to make 3-4 Million a year in TV revenue rather than 20 Million.  It is crazy and self-serving on the part of the MWC membership too.

So BYU will probably leave. What are their options?

BYU has to take their self-imposed blinders off...Today.

I am not saying that all the power brokers at BYU have blinders on, but I think the evidence suggests most are practicing small time, Mountain West Conference-style guppy thinking, not big time UT-style BCS power shark thinking.

The common wisdom discussed in the papers and on the internet is that BYU has 3 options.
1) Stay in the MWC.
2) Join the WCC for non-football sports and make their own way as a football independent.
3) Join the WAC for non-football sports.  BYU would play some games against the WAC schools in football to fill out difficult dates.

This is bad logic.

There are 2 more options.
4) Force the MWC to retain BYU as a non-football member.
5) Extract what you want out of both the WAC and WCC.

Option 1 seems pretty tough to imagine today. I cannot imaging BYU effectively "taking their beating" from a pack of lesser programs.

Option 2 seems to be where BYU is leaning today.

Option 3 seems to offer better revenue POTENTIAL than the other options, but potential is the key word.  The WAC member schools would have to get their act together and bless sensible expansion.

Option 4 I believe can be crossed off.  That would require a lot of bridge building by BYU and concessions made by both parties.  I don't see movement by either parties in that direction.

Plus, it is just a bad option. The entire reason BYU is looking to leave the MWC is the fact they have crap markets.  There is no money to be made by continuing that failed relationship.

Which brings us to option 5...Thinking like a big fish and naming your own price.

BYU is the biggest fish outside of the BCS.  BCS schools and non-BCS schools all want to play them due to their ability to draw strong crowds on the road.

BYU has all the leverage in the world.  If BYU isn't making huge money, it is their own fault.

They are a big enough fish talking with conferences with relatively little clout that BYU could get anything they ask for.

What BYU wants

BYU wants:

1) 4-6 FBS games played against them in the heart of conference play.
2) an affiliation with conferences that offer big markets to increase their ability to generate revenue with the BYU Network
3) an affiliation with Christian schools to make the LDS seem less like a pariah in Christian circles.
4) A solution that allows them to build a case for Big 12 inclusion.
5) An ability to bail for the Big 12 at any time.
6) To be able to help Utah State stay in a solid FBS conference to appease BYU power brokers with USU ties.
7) To shake the snake oil salesman image this crises has painted for their university and by association for the LDS church.

None of their solutions satisfy all of these desires, but BYU has the leverage to dictate terms to meet these goals.

The BYU home run scenario.

The MWC cannot offer BYU a thing.  BYU leaving the MWC is not going to hurt BYU's attendance - their fan base is too big.  Its fan base has its own momentum.

The MWC cannot offer any TV money.  There is no realistic path to BCS AQ inclusion for the MWC beyond a merger with CUSA which totally defeats the purpose as the payout would be split between 20 mostly weak schools.

So leave the MWC.

Where should BYU play?

The WAC offers poor basketball beyond NMSU and Utah State.  I have written a plan in a previous Bleacher Report to try to correct that, but it requires so many things to happen that BYU may not feel comfortable with trying to make it happen.

The WCC offers the religious rubber stamp BYU wants, big markets, and good basketball competition at least.  I would anticipate joining the WCC for basketball only.

Flexing Mormon muscle

I would advocate offering the WCC BYU basketball in return for supplemental broadcast rights of their conference basketball content and the admission of Seattle. Seattle has sought readmission to the WCC and offers an added big market for the BYU Network.

BYU could pay the WCC a percentage of broadcast profits for games shown on the BYU network to help cover the added travel costs.

BYU would get a good basketball home, a toe hold for their network in San Diego, Los Angeles, The Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, and Spokane markets, gets strong university supporters in Seattle, and retains a good deal of flexibility.

The WCC gets a little more money, a big draw in conference, a big new market, and a ton more exposure.

That would still leave every other sport in play for BYU.

BYU should offer 4-6 football games and all of BYU's other sports to the WAC on the conditions that the WAC members :

1) sign binding loyalty agreements with $10M exit fees that don't disappear if a member leaves.
2) are required to add a minimum of 6 new all-sports members which must be playing all of their sports in the WAC by 2013 with the lone exception of football in which the new members must be playing in the WAC by 2015.
3) are required to be playing split into divisional play in non-football sports by 2013 and in football by 2015.
4) that at least 5 of the new all Sports members need to be in top 75  media markets and name UNT, UTSA, Texas State, Sac State, and Portland State as preferred members.
5) agree that they will offer non-football memberships to Oral Roberts, UALR, Denver and San Francisco State.
6) agree that BYU will be given preferred scheduling position to play the top 6 finishers in the conference in OOC basketball play the following year.
7) agree to play a series of games against the WCC in multiple sports.
8) agree to abide by the other terms in the previous WAC/BYU " prenuptial" agreement including the agreement that allowed the BYU network to broadcast any and all WAC games or tournaments  (including basketball) that do not interfere with the WAC's ESPN deal. (BYU would in turn issue a share of profits for significantly successful WAC broadcasts.)

This is essentially BYU coming to the rescue of the 5 WAC schools that have no illusion of better options.  It is strong arming expansion of the WAC to 12 with FCS schools down Hawaii's throat  (UH would in return get a home and home football series with BYU). 

It would stabilize the WAC long term for Utah State without essentially rewarding the conference's dysfunctional lack of unity with a top basketball draw.

I covered much of how to specifically attract some of these schools - also the right schools for this scenario - in a previous bleacher report on saving the WAC, but here it is in a nutshell.

The WAC needs BYU football games to lure in UNT.  UNT is a large public in the nation's 5th most populous DMA.  UNT has turned down everything the WAC had to offer in the past, but a home game against BYU would be huge for UNT.  Seeing BYU come off TCU's schedule and go on UNT's schedule would be a huge point of discussion in Dallas.  UNT has no opportunity to host a major FBS draw in their current affilitation.

Once the WAC has UNT, the WAC satisfies the 5/6/7 rule and they retain their NCAA tournament bid.  From there it seems likely they could use UNT & La Tech to entice ULL to join (as they have big problems with ULM) getting the WAC to 8.

UTSA and Texas State are nearby large enrollment publics in top 55 DMAs who are moving up.  They would make sensible 9th and 10th schools completing the Central Division.

Portland State and Sacramento State are large publics in top 25 markets with 20K stadiums in hand who could transition to FBS by 2015.  They would be teams 11 & 12 and would complete the Pacific division.

San Francisco State, Denver, Oral Roberts, and UALR would fit in nicely getting the WAC to 16 teams over all in 2 sensible 8 team divisions.

From there The WAC could continue adding all sports or non-football schools or chose not to.  At that point, it doesn't matter to BYU.

The BYU Network as a cash machine

Both conferences would profit with greater exposure and some money coming in, but BYU would be the big winner.

BYU would be able to broadcast market relevant sports content on their network in the following markets:

DMA Market
2 Los Angeles
5 Dallas/Fort Worth
6 San Francisco
14 Seattle
18 Denver
20 Sacramento
23 Portland
27 San Diego
35 Salt Lake City/Utah
37 San Antonio
51 Austin
57 Little Rock
60 Tulsa
73 Honolulu/Hawaii
77 Spokane

Networks need to be seen as of value in big DMAs.  The BYU network would be able to provide big games of local relevance to most of the Western US while allowing Mormons everywhere better access.  This scenario allows BYU to better tap their expansive religious base.

A "have not" in the Big 12 will allegedly make about 13M in TV revenue.  For a network OWNER broadcasting sports content for two conferences with very little payouts required in 15 of the top 80 markets in the US, as well as owning a fan base larger than most BCS AQ member schools', it seems very likely BYU would quickly exceed that mark.

BYU would be the second university in the US who could flip the BCS powers the bird.

To put it further in perspective, while UT dominates Texas, BYU could become the power in the entire western US specifically BECAUSE the BCS exists, because BYU can work outside of the BCS framework, because BYU is a school outside of the BCS whose fan support suggests merits BCS inclusion, and because BYU could potentially work to make its member conferences stronger as being a network owner BYU would profit from that.

BYU is in a unique situation

While BYU would essentially be making money hand over fist as a network owner broadcasting the content of two conferences, they would be seen as a sugar daddy by the WCC and WAC as they would bring attention to both conferences that those conferences would not normally receive.

A school like Texas will always be a user, quietly despised by their conference mates.  BYU as a athletic power could be exactly the opposite and still hugely financially successful.

All it would take is BYU getting quick verbal commitments from the WCC and WAC for the general concept and BYU submitting their exit papers to the MWC by the impending deadline to ensure the rescue of the WAC.

Is BYU a big enough fish to pull a big time power move like this off or are they what their detractors say, "a guppy with delusions of grandeur"?

(Post Script:  I believe it would be financially in the best interest of the WCC to grant BYU leave to implement some of the suggestions in this Bleacher Report.  Really the WCC only needs BYU for basketball and a healthy WAC as a scheduling partner could provide a lot more exposure for the WCC.)


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