BYU's independence may lie in the hands of ESPN

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PROVO -- In a week that has seen a lot of cross conference activity, all of a sudden the Mountain West Conference world has been thrown into upheaval with recent rumors that BYU has intentions to go independent come the 2011 football season.

The school has until September 1 to announce its decision and latest reports are that the MWC is trying to reel the Cougars back in. Dick Harmon, of the Deseret News and former BYU footballer Blaine Fowler of Mountain Television Network joined Tom Kirkland in studio on Sunday to weigh in on this latest conference drama.

While Harmon and Fowler debated whether the Mountain West even had concessions to offer to keep BYU in the conference, they agreed that a key component in all of this could be powerhouse sports media outlet ESPN, who has, in the past, expressed an interest in airing BYU games a few times a year.

Said Harmon, "You don't walk away from ESPN and you don't alienate them as a partner. They can open doors for scheduling as an independent; they can open up doors for bowl considerations, and certainly they can go into a BCS board meeting and open up a briefcase and say, ‘you know, maybe you ought to give them a consideration like Notre Dame and maybe you ought to do it tomorrow.'"

Fowler agreed, suggesting this might be a "spin-off" offer of contracts past, where ESPN can still get what they want with brokering and airing four or five BYU games a year, but without the price tag that would come with having to pay for the entire conference. However, with a move to independence, BYU could be putting their other 19 sports programs in a tough spot finding a "home" for them.

Fans may be questioning where this puts BYU, as far as scheduling challenges and the task of possibly getting into a BCS bowl game as an independent. Fowler somewhat shrugged off the first concern saying he felt "independence" was something BYU "could do." And Harmon sees a solution with the BCS dilemma through ESPN, saying, "I think ESPN is a powerful entity. They own BCS bowls. They're a partner in the BCS--and they need a presence here in the West. With the WAC doing what it's doing and possibly the PAC 10 signing on with Fox Sports, they need to have a presence and an entity [in the West] that they can somehow highlight."

There have been talks between BYU and ESPN to that end. And all this, of course, gives BYU what they've been desiring for a long time, and that is greater exposure on a larger platform.

Whatever the outcome, it has undeniably gotten the Mountain West Conference's attention and fans will undoubtedly be holding their collective breath to see how the matter plays out in the next few days.


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Dave Noriega


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