Now, after rethinking that partnership, BYU has changed its course and tied its brand with ESPN.
"We've actually been looking at this opportunity to improve our fan access and exposure for our teams and student athletes for years," said athletic director Tom Holmoe during BYU's press conference on Wednesday. "We worked long and hard through the proper channels to try and solve issues that would enhance these two areas. For years we've tried to do all that we could do to put to good use our broadcasting resources that our school is so blessed to have. Much to our disappointment through the years, there was little improvement in these areas."
With BYU's $82 million broadcasting facility being built, however, new options became available.
"Eventually we began to look outside of the unproductive pathways on a set of wider options," Homloe said. "Knowing we have a state-of-the-art broadcast facility that was online and nearing completion, as well as an incredible [high definition] truck to assist us that was courtesy of our brothers at BYU Broadcasting, we knew we could not let this window of opportunity pass us by."
"Contrary to some speculation, a driving force in our deliberations has been to secure a broad, nationwide access for games and contests for our large national following," said BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson. "We are also finding ways to showcase our hardworking and exemplary student athletes."
BYU's deal with ESPN will allow fans all over to have much better access to Cougar games.
"As our performance warrants it, ESPN can also showcase our team on SportsCenter and College GameDay and with promotional spots during their other shows and games on TV," Homloe said. "At the same time, we will begin to see live games on BYUtv, which is already on the basic tier on both Dish and Direct TV, as well as over 500 cable systems in 55 million homes across the country and growing every month. BYUtv also has the capacity to broadcast our games internationally to millions and millions more.
"As you can see, BYU's national fan base will now be able to watch every BYU home football and men's basketball games on national TV. In addition to the live broadcasts, BYU broadcasting will also have the ability to do same-day rebroadcasts of every home game and any game to which ESPN has the rights. Fans will also have on-demand access to any of these games, any of these replays in a library of some of the great BYU games from the past through BYU Broadcasting's online offerings."
Dave Brown, ESPN vice president of programming, was on hand during Wednesday's press conference and expressed a great deal of support for the new partnership between BYU and ESPN.
"I'm very confident, absolutely very confident," said Brown. "Just look at the Oklahoma rating last year ... I mean, [BYU] got great ratings in all the five Las Vegas Bowls that we've done. With everything here, we're going to move forward and kick it up a notch and take it up a level."
An instrumental factor, ESPN has brokered high-profile games involving BYU in the recent past and will continue to do so now nationwide. Wednesday's press conference included the announcement of a six-game series against Notre Dame that will run through 2020.
"Fortunately we have a long and fruitful relationship with ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports," Holmoe said. "For nearly 30 years, BYU and ESPN have teamed up for some classic football games. For example, last year's matchup in Dallas Cowboys Stadium with the University of Oklahoma would not have been possible without the influence of ESPN … Together in partnership – ESPN and BYU Athletics – our vision is to play football games across the country against many of the storied football programs in their legendary stadiums and to have those same highly regarded programs return to Provo to play in LaVell Edwards Stadium."
"Those are great windows for us when the heavy-hitters come here," said Brown. "Those are great opportunity for us to put BYU on Saturday night on primetime like we did for Notre Dame and USC, and I foresee those kinds of opportunities coming back quickly."
While it remains to be seen what future opportunities will come about, Brown hinted at BYU traveling to some different locations around the country.
"We're going to look for incredible game-site opportunities that present themselves given the incredible nationwide fan base BYU has," Brown said. "We're certainly going to look at those opportunities too, and those will be great opportunities for us whether it's in Dallas, Houston or Atlanta. It's going to be a great opportunity to get the BYU brand out there."
While ESPN will continue to work with BYU in scheduling high-profile games, Holmoe will ultimately have control over who BYU ends up playing.
"Tom in conjunction with Bronco [Mendehall] is going to run point on the schedule as they've always done," Brown said. "And certainly they're a broadcast partner now, and like with any broadcast partner – and even when BYU was a partner with the Mountain West [when] we did the Oklahoma game – if there is an interesting opportunity, we're going to run it by them. They are going to determine who is on the schedule every year [and] when the games are played. That is solely going to be under Tom's direction as it's always been."
Brown also emphatically stated that BYU will not play any weeknight games earlier than Thursday.
"No, that will not happen. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and that's it as Tom said, and most of the games will be on Saturday. Obviously we're going to look forward to having BYU return to Thursday night football, and we're going to look to have them be a Friday night game each year as well. Obviously, with the General [Conference] of the Church [falling on weekends], and with the Utah State game, that gives us a great opportunity to do that. So we're going to make sure to take care of those scheduling options for us, but no Tuesday, Wednesday or Monday games and certainly no Sunday games."
With BYU's football program going independent, most other Cougar sports will join the West Coast Conference, which is comprised entirely of private religious institutions.
"BYU is a unique institution in a number of ways which helps support our notion of independence, and also with that, closer association with likeminded institutions that are faith-based and academically oriented," said Samuelson. "We are convinced that we are taking positive steps forward. In this I must mention that we have the full support, confidence and encouragement of the BYU Board of Trustees in these decisions."
Holmoe addressed why BYU has chosen to go the independent route.
"It comes down to two pillars: access and exposure," Holmoe said. "Being independent increases our access to our national following of fans. Every home football game and men's basketball game will be carried nationally, and we will be free to broadcast our Olympic sports games as often as we please.
"Two, being independent increases the national exposure of our athletic programs. This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase who I feel are the greatest student athletes in the world."
BYU fans worldwide can welcome BYU football back to primetime, and it's about time.