ESPN to continue broadcasting BYU football through 2019

There were three big announcements at the BYU Football Media Day. The first one involved the television contract between BYU and ESPN.

Back in 2010, when BYU announced it would leave the Mountain West Conference (MWC) to become a college football independent, the school also announced it had reached an agreement with ESPN to broadcast BYU home football games. Complete details of the deal were not made public, but the length of the deal was one detail that was publicized. It would run eight years, 2011-18, but there was a clause that would allow ESPN to extend the contract one extra year. Thanks to BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe, we now know that ESPN has decided to add that extra year.

The terms and conditions of the ninth year are the exact same as the original eight. Which means, we can expect 2019 to play out much the same as 2011-17 where virtually every BYU home game, except one per season, was broadcast on one of the ESPN family of networks (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU). That one game per season that was not broadcast on ESPN was shown on BYUtv, per the terms of the contract. As for the BYU away games, many of them have appeared on ESPN due to the contracts ESPN has with all the other Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences. Fox Sports has broadcast some away games with Pac-12 schools, and CBS Sports has broadcast some away games with MWC schools.

ESPN extending the contract is not really a surprise. BYU and ESPN have a long history, starting with the 1984 BYU game at Pittsburgh. It was the first college football game broadcast live by ESPN. Later in the 1980s and early 1990s when few schools were willing to enjoy the national spotlight of playing on Thursday night, ESPN regularly found BYU willing to adjust its schedule. ESPN televised BYU's upset of number one ranked Miami in 1990. By coming out victorious most of the time, BYU became a valuable partner to the growing cable network. In recent years, however, that value has resulted in more than just playing on a unconventional night. This contract with ESPN has resulted in many BYU football games kicking off after 8 p.m. in the time zone where the game was played.

The real surprise in Holmoe's announcement at Media Day was that ESPN guarantees BYU a slot in a bowl game. One way the 2017 football season is unique for BYU is the Cougars enter the season without a specific bowl game to play in if they become bowl eligible (win six games). However, ESPN owns several bowl games, and owns the television rights to broadcast all but three. Depending on just how good the BYU team turns out to be, ESPN will use its clout to get BYU into the best bowl match up possible. That doesn't mean a deserving school will be left home for the holidays. Due to the proliferation of bowl games, the last few years multiple bowls have had to get creative to find qualifying opponents. In some cases, the NCAA had to grant a waiver to the six win rule because there were no more six-win schools available.

BYU may face the same situation in 2018. The Cougars were contracted to play in the Poinsettia Bowl for the third time (2012 and 2016), however, the San Diego Bowl Game Association recently announced it would no longer host the Poinsettia Bowl. In this case, there is still some time for BYU to negotiate a deal with another bowl for next year.

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