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BYU, ESPN tied at the hip but relationship undefined after Big 12 entry happens

The next two seasons, ESPN will televise eight BYU games, help with bowls

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe speaks at a press conference where the school announced it accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe speaks at a press conference where the school announced it accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference in Provo on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. At right, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby joins via video conference. BYU will play all sports provided by the Big 12 except for equestrian, rowing and wrestling. Men’s volleyball will continue to play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, as the Big 12 does not offer the sport.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

ESPN juice put BYU in a position to receive an invitation to the Big 12 on Friday but that relationship contracted through 2026 is undefined after the Cougars leave independence in 2023.

It isn’t that it may end, it just hasn’t been discussed, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said while speaking on BYUtv on Friday.

How big was ESPN for the Cougars as an independent? According to Nichole Auerbach, writing in The Athletic, an industry source shared that BYU’s ESPN games “generally garner bigger audiences than the remaining Big 12 schools in comparable windows and could increase their per-school TV revenue by about $2 million annually in the Big 12’s next deal.”

ESPN brokered deals with BYU to play myriad Power Five schools, plus Boise State. Those marquee games included Texas, Michigan, USC, Washington, Michigan State, Tennessee, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Cal, UCLA, Missouri, Arizona, Arizona State, West Virginia and LSU.

When BYU left the Mountain West Conference for independence in 2010, the contract included a clause that would release BYU’s first-tier media rights from ESPN if the Cougars were invited to join a Power Five conference.

How will that change when BYU joins the Big 12?

“It hasn’t been discussed,” said Holmoe. “It hasn’t even come up and we haven’t talked about it.”

What Holmoe has talked about with the Big 12 is how BYUtv could be a part of the league, and commissioner Bob Bowlsby was advised to look into it.

The ESPN pact with the Cougars is viewed as a valuable connection.

“One of the great things about ESPN, it’s about the people,” said Holmoe. “It’s not just bout that company — the sports leader — but the people back there are incredible and so we have that connection.

“They’ve been a big part of our brand, a part of Cougar Nation. We have that and we would love to see that continue. They are the ones that helped us get all those games. They helped us in basketball to get to the Maui Classic several times and the Diamond Head Classic.

“We aren’t going to treat them lightly and we will do everything we can to continue that relationship.”

BYU remains contracted with ESPN to appear in the 11th oldest bowl game in the country, the Independence Bowl, in Shreveport, Louisiana, against a Conference USA opponent in 2021.

If the Big Ten or Big 12 is unable to send a participant to the Cheez-It Bowl in Arizona, ESPN has slotted BYU to play in that bowl.

Since its first appearance in the 1974 Fiesta Bowl, BYU has played in 37 bowl games over the past 45 seasons, including 14 of the last 15 years.

BYU and ESPN renewed their contract in 2020 through the 2026 season. The agreement calls for ESPN to broadcast at least four games on ESPN or one of its affiliate networks like ESPN2 each season.