Dennis Dodd of CBS reported that the Big East TV deal could be worth as little as $60M per year. This would provide an average payout per school of $4M to $5.3M per year. The payout of the Mountain West TV deal would be far less than these figures, which are expected to be between $2M and $3M per year. So, the question becomes, how much does BYU make from its deal with ESPN?
Well, my man Greg Welch did some investigating, and according to a government site tracking athletic disclosure figures, BYU's athletic revenue jumped $7.5M from 2010 to 2011. This was the year in which the Cougars made the move to independence.
These numbers are just part of the variable. Dodd also reported that BYU will receive a paltry $200,000 per year in revenue from the new BCS Playoff model. The Cougars, like their independent friend Army, will remain the only two FBS schools unconnected with either a conference or a conference revenue stream. (Hi Notre Dame.)
Additionally, BYU will have the poorest access to the playoff beginning in 2014. The Group of Five (Big East, MAC, C-USA, Sun Belt, MWC) will send its highest-ranked team as an automatic entry into BCS. BYU would have to finish in the top four or be selected by the playoff selection committee to earn access. So, an 11-1 BYU team, ranked fifth in the country could be jumped by the highest-ranked team in the Group of Five, which would be #15 Northern Illinois if we were going by this year's standings.
We all know that scheduling as an independent has its good days and its bad. Tom Holmoe has done a masterful job under the circumstances, and BYU's schedule in 2013 will be the best in school history. Scheduling a full slate of games for every year of play is taxing, trying, and above all, frustrating because of the nature of contract law. Money damages, not the specific enforcement of contractual terms, are the remedy for breach. This leaves BYU at a disadvantage, for it must always have a back-up plan for contracts that, even if airtight, can be breached and paid for by schools at the drop of a hat.
In the film The Prestige, Robert Angier asks Nikola Tesla to build him a complex and ingenious machine to help with his career in magic. Tesla responds in this way:
TESLA: Mr. Angier, have you considered the cost of such a machine?
ANGIER: Price is not an object.
TESLA: Perhaps not, but have you considered the cost?
This is the question that BYU must ask itself moving forward: Is it worth the cost of being an independent? Cost beyond money, that is. We know that BYU's independence was never about BCS access. It was not about money, either. It was about exposure. So, is the freedom of BYUTV, the reach of ESPN, and the sizeable payout attributed to it sufficient reason to give up access to the BCS moving forward? Is taking a pay cut, reining in your distribution model, and competing in the Big East worth the price of admission to the BCS Table?
Independence allows for fans from around the country to see the Cougars play. The ESPN TV deal allows BYU fans from coast-to-coast to see the games every Saturday. Playing a diverse schedule against new teams every year provides a bowl-game like experience throughout the season.
In the world of conference expansion, having a contractual relationship with ESPN cannot be overstated. ESPN has helped and will continue to help BYU in scheduling opponents. Independence, with all the frustrations that may come with scheduling, is great for BYU Football.
BYU is a unique institution with distinct goals and aspirations. In a perfect world, BYU would have a nice, comfy home in either the Pac-12 or the Big 12 and all of these questions about access, distribution, and exposure would be rendered moot. Fact remains, BYU will never join the Pac-12, and the Big 12 hasn't breathed interest since mid-2011.
Conference expansion continues to muddy the waters and the ability to project what will be the end-game is as difficult as ever. So, in the here and now, Tom Holmoe and Co. must diagnose the cost of independence, with all its terrific advantages, and decide whether it is worth it. I don't envy them.