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Four years into ESPN's eight-year contract with BYU, the Worldwide Leader in Sports remains the Cougars' biggest fan.
"No question, we are thrilled with the relationship we have with BYU," said Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN's vice president of programming and acquisitions. "It remains every bit as strong as the day we signed the deal.
"They're fantastic to work with. They've done a great job on the field."
ESPN has exceeded what it promised when it signed the deal in 2010 an annual minimum of three games on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC and one game on ESPNU, with one home game reserved for a live telecast on BYUtv. Through four seasons, ESPN has telecast all but the four BYUtv home games nine on ESPN; six on ESPNU; five on ESPN2 and one on ABC.
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Ben-Hanan addressed several issues:
ESPN is not displeased by BYU's three consecutive eight-win seasons • Some BYU fans have grumbled, but not ESPN.
"Absolutely not," Ben-Hanan said. "I can't speak from a fan base expectation, but I can tell you from a TV perspective they've been great. They're willing to challenge all comers. They play an exciting brand of football. They have, obviously, a large and diverse national fan base. They've done everything you could ever ask them to do as a television partner."
BYU fans can expect to see more night games • But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Schools in the Mountain and Pacific time zones have an advantage of playing [late] because it means more unopposed windows," Ben-Hanan said. "At noon Eastern time, there's games all up and down the East Coast and the Midwest. BYU's had a unique opportunity to play in some great windows and get a lot of exposure."
The ACC/SEC designation of BYU as P5 equivalent for scheduling adds value for ESPN • "BYU is in a very good position, being recognized for the value they bring and the quality opponent that they are," Ben-Hanan said.
ESPN continues to help BYU with scheduling • "We work very closely with them," Ben-Hanan said. ESPN had a hand in games this year against Nebraska, Michigan and Missouri, for example.
"In the end, it's up to BYU who they want to play," Ben-Hanan said. "We've had a great partnership working with them to put together really good, representative national schedules."
ESPN will not be involved in any possible talks of BYU joining a conference • "Any decision about conference affiliation is entirely within their control and whatever conference they're talking to," Ben-Hanan said. "ESPN never has anything to do with any of those conversations."
He declined to comment on whether there is anything in the BYU-ESPN deal that might preclude the Cougars joining a conference.
"We don't comment on contractual terms," Ben-Hanan said. "I would say it's a great relationship and, in the end, BYU is going to do whatever they think is best. And we respect that."
He did point out that ESPN has a relationship with every FBS conference and said it would be "enthusiastic" about BYU no matter what.
And, while it's much to early to say if ESPN will exercise its option it has to extend its deal with BYU through 2019, it's certainly a possibility.
"We love working with them," Ben-Hanan said. "They've been nothing but outstanding."
Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.