New TV deal with ESPN, difficult schedules and future bowl agreements are ‘essential’ to BYU’s success as a football independent, AD Tom Holmoe says
In his annual roundtable discussion with reporters, the Cougars’ leader discussed football coach Kalani Sitake’s contract extension, analyzed the 2019 football season and provided updates on possible football opponents, including Notre Dame
PROVO — BYU released its 2020 football schedule on Wednesday, and almost immediately some fans and media members began calling it the most difficult in program history. The Cougars, who have finished with a mediocre 7-6 record each of the past two seasons, will face three opponents that finished in the top 25 last year and six teams that belong to Power Five conferences.
What does the architect of the schedule that features the likes of Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, Missouri, Boise State and Stanford think of its place in BYU football history?
“We will see it when we play it — maybe (it is the most difficult) on paper,” said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. “I think (reporters) would like for me to say that. I like it. There are days when (head football coach) Kalani (Sitake) likes it, and there are days when he doesn’t like it.”
Holmoe met with media members for 45 minutes Thursday morning in his annual roundtable discussion to discuss the state of BYU’s athletics program, and the conversation quickly moved to football after a half-dozen or so opening questions on the school’s new television agreement with ESPN and future bowl agreements with ESPN and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“It is essential” to BYU’s football independence, Holmoe said of the new seven-year deal with the broadcast entity he called, “The sports leader.”
And so is playing the best football schedule he can put together, he said. The 2020 lineup certainly qualifies.
“This is what the BYU football program needs, and that’s what I am trying to make happen,” Holmoe said. We need “to stay relevant in the world of college football. Our fans have expectations. Our supporters have expectations. And it is not just to win games.”
Holmoe reiterated a past comment that “probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to say” about how he could schedule a lineup of cupcakes to ensure 10 wins a year but that wouldn’t help the program in the long run.
“A schedule like this year has a purpose. It is intentional,” he said. “… I don’t go after teams I know we can beat and load up on (patsies). Because then attendance would drop. Even if we won 10 or 11 games, people might be yawning through it.”
This year’s schedule has the usual killer September opponents (Utah, MSU, ASU and Minnesota), and Holmoe was asked if he has “second thoughts” about playing so many tough opponents early because the Cougars did it last year and suffered a high amount of injuries and appeared worn down when October rolled around.
“No, not really,” he said. “Because there is going to be a year where we don’t have injuries, and we are going to blast it out. And I am going to be really glad that we had a schedule like that, because we will finish up really strong. And I don’t do scheduling based on what could go wrong. I base scheduling on what could go right. And that’s where my vision is right now.”
Among the other topics discussed Thursday:
• Asked to assess the 2019 football season that concluded with a 38-34 loss to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, Holmoe called it inconsistent.
“That’s just something that we have to continually work on,” he said, noting the puzzling losses to the likes of Toledo, South Florida, SDSU and UH. “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 stake in the ground and say this is one we have to fix right now. I am not going to say those things.”
• Having extended Sitake’s contract through 2023 last November, Holmoe said the deal does not include a rollover clause that adds years based on wins and success.
“I think my experience with being around him, being around the team, being around all aspects of the program, and the organization, he is the right coach for the job,” Holmoe said, noting the timing of it wasn’t important. “I just feel that when it happened ended up being good for our program.”
• Holmoe said he has not talked to any officials from Boise State after the Broncos filed a legal complaint against the Mountain West Conference alleging that BYU’s former conference has violated the terms of an agreement on television revenue. There’s some talk that the squabble might push BSU into considering independence, or a move to another conference.
• Holmoe said his relationship with Utah athletic director Mark Harlan is such that if BYU needed to opt out of a scheduled game with the Utes — as Utah did with BYU last fall for 2022 and 2023 games — it would happen fairly easily. “I trust him, and he trusts me,” Holmoe said. “I feel good about it.”
• That Notre Dame still owes BYU a home football game is always a topic for discussion at Holmoe’s media appearances, and it was again Thursday. He said there have been discussions the past year, with a possible option, such as playing the game in Las Vegas.
“We have had discussions about making that a neutral football game, where now we would be the home team in that, but it would be at a neutral site,” he said. “It is interesting that they are intrigued by that, but we can’t really agree on where that neutral game would be played. So the saga continues.”
• Could there be a new wave of conference realignment on the horizon, Holmoe was asked.
“My answer (would be similar) to the past: You can see like little tremors maybe. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen a few (Boise State). The tsunami? I don’t know. When you hear people that will make those decisions, their statements on those are basically wait until the end of the CFP contract, or wait until the end of television rights agreement contracts with the conferences, and I am monitoring those constantly.”
• Does the NCAA have it out for BYU, after slapping star basketball player Yoeli Childs with a nine-game suspension and vacating 47 wins after an investigation into former guard Nick Emery taking extra benefits from boosters?
“No. I don’t think it is a BYU issue,” Holmoe said. “I really don’t (think) they have it out for us. … So I don’t think they are picking on BYU as much as BYU and other schools feel like the measure, the standard that they are working to, are not acceptable to this day and age.”