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Provo • Brigham Young University's existing television contracts as a football independent are snagging negotiations with the Big East Conference for BYU to join that league's proposed western division as a football-only member and are threatening to kill the deal altogether, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned.
Sources familiar with the negotiations told The Tribune on Monday that talks between BYU and the Big East are continuing but that there are "some stumbling blocks" that could lead the league to look at another Western school, perhaps San Diego State, as a traveling partner for Boise State because the Aztecs don't carry as much TV baggage as BYU.
The deal is not dead, sources insist, but it does not look as likely as it did last Tuesday when The Tribune first reported that BYU was close to joining the Big East in football along with Boise State and, possibly, Air Force. The academy hasn't decided what it wants to do next and is taking a wait-and-see approach, sources in the East and West have both said.
Apparently, BYU wants to retain its home television rights through its eight-year arrangement with ESPN that allows the broadcast sports giant to televise all but one BYU home football game per season with an estimated payout of between $1 million and $2 million per game. The deal with ESPN allows BYU's own network, BYUtv, to broadcast the one game not picked up by ESPN and also allows the Cougars to show replays of all their ESPN broadcasts home or away on BYUtv.
The Big East does not want to hand over those rights to BYU, primarily because it wants the option of using them when it negotiates a new television contract next year and believes it could affect the value of that contract.
Also, recent reports from credible news organizations such as ESPN.com that the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) could radically change its structure and alter its major bowl selection process after 2013 are said to be giving BYU officials pause. The primary reason BYU would consider giving up its cherished independence after only a year or two and join a conference is that it wants to belong to a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.
The Big East will have AQ status through the 2013 season, but what happens beyond that year with the BCS is anybody's guess, a notion that is causing uneasiness in Provo.
A Big East spokesperson said Monday that the league, based in Providence, R.I., is "continuing our negotiations … and continuing to look at our possibilities in regards to membership" and declined to comment further.
Meanwhile, the three Conference USA schools set to join the Big East Houston, Central Florida and SMU are growing impatient, the Orlando Sentinel reported Saturday. UCF president John Hitt told the paper that those schools are waiting on schools in the West before making an official announcement.
"Our general counsel has been working with the general counsels [attorneys] of Houston, SMU, Boise, Navy; I think at one time or another BYU," Hitt said. "And they're all trying to get this done."
If a deal cannot be reached early Tuesday, any announcement will likely be delayed until next week at the earliest because of the Thanksgiving holiday, a source said. League offices will be closed on Thursday and Friday.