BYU signs football deal with ESPN

PROVO, Utah -- BYU is perfectly happy with "Plan B."

Two weeks after BYU's original intention to go independent in football collapsed in a matter of hours, athletic director Tom Holmoe made the announcement Wednesday that has been haunting him for much of the last month: The Cougars are going solo in football, accepting the many risks with the hopes of greater rewards.

BYU's other sports have found a new home in the West Coast Conference, which is a non-football league and turned out to be an ideal fit after BYU's deal with the Western Athletic Conference crashed hard on Aug. 18.

"I'd say it was exhilarating, fun, hard, terrible, great -- and done," Holmoe said with a weary smile during a news conference at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Holmoe said BYU is trying to gain more exposure and immediately announced two moves that will get the Cougars some notice.

BYU and ESPN have reached an eight-year deal for the network or one of its affiliates to broadcast the Cougars' home games, which at the moment are a lot of open dates.

Holmoe said scheduling as one of just four independents in major college football was an obvious risk that BYU considered, but felt the Cougars still have enough name recognition and a large fan base that should make building a schedule without eight conference games at least a little easier.

One of the future opponents will likely be Notre Dame, which Holmoe said is working with BYU to iron out the details on a six-game deal through 2020. Another is archrival Utah, which is also leaving the Mountain West after getting an invitation to join the Pac-10 next year.

Holmoe said he has been talking with Utah athletic director Chris Hill about ways to keep the annual clash going while no longer in the same conference.

"We both are in agreement in that it's an important game to continue," Holmoe said.

The Cougars will also be without the Mountain West's guaranteed bowl spots and there will be no league title to try and win. But Holmoe said BYU will have more chances to play in the spotlight on ESPN, where BYU was once a regular when the network was still a cable newcomer.

With quarterbacks like Jim McMahon, Steve Young and many, many others launching passes on nearly every offensive play, the Cougars were good TV.

"We had a lot of exciting games. We started throwing the football before anybody else did, and so that right away created a lot of excitement," former coach LaVell Edwards said after the announcement. "ESPN was a new company and we were kind of the new kids on the block. We just kind of grew up together that way."

Edwards said he was initially leery of the independence idea until he got a call from Holmoe -- one of his former players -- on Tuesday night explaining what was being planned and why.

Holmoe's dealings over the last two weeks had been so undercover that even Edwards -- for whom the football stadium was renamed -- was out of the loop. Edwards could have likely learned whatever he wanted to know with a quick call, but said he didn't want to interfere with something the athletic department was so adamant about keeping quiet so it would hopefully go through this time.

"I'm excited about it," Edwards said. "I think it's going to be interesting to see how it goes."

BYU had a deal in place with the WAC that would have allowed the Cougars to join the league in all sports but football. It nearly happened, but the Mountain West pulled off a block by getting Fresno State and Nevada to join the MWC. The invitations were extended and accepted within the same day, leaving the Mountain West protected if BYU did depart and not giving the Cougars much of a destination if they chose to go before the Sept. 1 deadline.

West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich saw the predicament BYU was in and began talks about the Cougars coming on board the WCC. The eight conference members are all private, faith-based schools, making the league a very good match for the school owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Men's basketball coach Dave Rose said he was excited to be joining the league that includes Gonzaga and St. Mary's, but will be more excited once he's done with the Cougars' final year competing in the Mountain West.

He also noted that WCC member Loyola Marymount beat BYU in the 2005 season opener, Rose's first game coaching the Cougars.

"They're all pretty good teams," Rose said.

The WCC does not compete in track and field, swimming and softball, so there are still some BYU teams without homes. Holmoe said that is one of the many details left to resolve, one of many ahead now that BYU has committed to leaving the Mountain West, effective in June 2011.