This article was started several weeks ago and only now did I decide to finish it and add a little more information. Just some random musings I was doing a few weeks back.
A Search for Independence
For those who don’t follow sports (and I’m getting closer and closer to becoming a member of that group), BYU has recently been trying to flex it’s brawn and become an independent school a la Notre Dame, at least independent with regards their football program. Indeed, within the past couple of days it announced that they were leaving the Mountain West Conference to become a football independent. So far so good. But, as an entity owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (TM, yes it’s a trademarked name), why is there this need to go off into independent status and throw their conference affiliation to the wayside?
Not being a huge historical buff on this issue, it made me wonder why the change would be advantageous, but in reading the publicly available reports on the issue, I’m still left scratching my head.
Exposure and Money
Tom Holmoe, the BYU Athletic Director who spurred this decision forward along with Cecil Samuelson, president of BYU, had this to say regarding the why and how of the decision:
“We have some incredible options available to us because of BYU broadcasting and the friends that we have across the country. We’re going to look to make sure that we build on those things and take advantage of those things. We’re trying to put ourselves in position to be the best we can, which is exposure across the country, letting our kids shine in the bright lights.”
The best position, following Holmoe’s logic, is for increased exposure and popularity – shining in the bright lights. In this same article, Holmoe reportedly stated how frustrated BYU had become with a “lack of television exposure” and how there “goal is exposure.” The frustration stemmed largely from a poor Mountain West Conference TV payout schedule, as well as the inability to broadcast games on BYU’s own TV network.
One BYU fan put it this way, “You have to make a lot more money to be able to go independent. You’re not guaranteed money if another school makes it to the BCS or something like that, so there’s financial risks.”
Joe Schad, an ESPN reporter stated that (prior to BYU officially electing for independent status), “With BYU considering leaving the MWC, Thompson said he has had “very good dialogue” with BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson since Fresno State and Nevada announced they would join the conference. Thompson said the MWC has “shown a willingness to work through some TV issues” in an effort to prevent BYU from declaring its independence. BYU is exploring putting some sporting events on its own television network.”
Based on these statements, the reasoning behind this move was (a) exposure, (b) money and (c) more exposure and more money. Exposure through increased TV time, under the “bright lights,” and increased revenues through more lucrative TV deals.
A New Contract
Cecil $amuelson, president of BYU, in a press release announcing the move to an independent football school, as well as the signing of an 8-year TV contract with ESPN to televise home football games, explained that:
“We’ve long sought broad, nationwide access to our games for our fans and increased visibility among those who may be less familiar with our university and athletic programs. We’ve also been looking for ways to take better advantage of our own unique broadcasting resources.”
Again, more exposure, visibility and money is the goal. Why would one seek to “take better advantage” of their “unique broadcasting resources” (i.e. BYUTv and the households it reaches, which in turn will bring in advertising and syndication dollars) if it was for something other than money? According to the aforementioned press release, BYUTv is available in 55,000,000 homes through Dish Network and DirectTv, in addition to being carried by more than 500 cable systems. Thanks to some investments in a “state-of-the-art” production truck, BYUtv will be able to televise games live, and in HD.
In a separate SL Tribune article, Samuelson proffered, “We are convinced we are taking major positive steps forward.”
ESPN, in responding to this contract, declared:
“Once BYU decided to chart an independent course for football, we both recognized it is a good opportunity to build and grow our strong 30-year relationship. With this agreement, college football fans around the country will see the quality and pageantry of BYU as well as the passion and enthusiasm of its supporters.” Dave Brown, a vice president of programming and acquisition, declared that the announcement of the new TV contract was “tremendous day to be back in business with BYU. We’ve had a great relationship with BYU over the years.”
While the details of the contract seem scant, some estimates suggest that the contract will net BYU between $1.0 and $1.2 million per home game. With a minimum of 3 home games televised annually by ESPN over the life of the contract, one would rightly assume that BYU is looking at making some $5.0 million (more or less) each year of the 8 year contract. That would lend a rough guesstimate of a total value of the contract between $40 and $50 million, and that’s assuming that only 3 games are televised annually. Kurt Kragthorpe of the SL Tribune stated that “ESPN is televising nearly every home game for eight years.” If that’s the case, then more games = more money. Samuelson reportedly stated that the “driving force” behind the move was merely to “secure broad and nationwide television access to BYU athletic contests for the school’s fans around the world.” Uh huh. Sure.
Nope, still not buying it. While that might have been a consideration, there’s simply no way BYU would have gone forward with this move if it were costing them $50 million over the next 8 years. Absolutely no way. The only real reasons for this move is for exposure and money. Pure and simple. Any other explanation is a likely a stinky pile of garbage.
One may even argue, and perhaps this is what Samuelson was getting at in his statement to bring BYU football games into the living room of every breathing Mormon, that the increased exposure will result in more alumni donations and endowments. That may indeed prove to be the case, but that would then point even more to money being the main goal of this decision.
An Old Business Model
George Ure recently stated, on his blog, that everything essentially boils down to economics and a basic business model. You can read his discussion on that topic here, but his discussion had to do with recent pontifications by various media personalities. In response to someone calling him out for failing to mention said personalities or political events, Ure responded:
“As a matter of policy around here (a right I claim as a real piece of shit, as you so eloquently penned it) we don’t spend much time counting the number of people who line up behind one business model, or another. No point to it. BUT, now that you brought it up, everything is a business model. The job you used to have, the business of being a politician, even churches / religions are business models, something I don’t grind your face in because the evidence is that I’m right. Jesus didn’t make the big bucks on his own religion, it was the marketers who followed who cashed in. Ditto Buddha and the rest of history’s Enlightened: Business models that followed were where the dough was – so you see everything really is a business model. Not bad just is. Every time the right wing, or the left, or the NRA, or the church, or the local PTA pass around fundraisers, or I pimp my subscriber side, I’m reminded “Everything’s a Business Model.” Again for clarity: I didn’t say any of this is bad…money makes the world go round. On the other hand, whenever I see a highly touted named personality I run – not walk, mind you – I run the other way as fast as I can. We live in a society where EBM and the cults of personality are all what? Repeat after me: Business models!”
With that in mind, and taking the above quotes by Joe Schad, Cecil $amuelson and Tom Holmoe at face value, we’re essentially left with a move that is based on a business model. Business models, it should go without saying, are based on profits and revenues. Money, pure and simple, is the name of the game. Exposure, the other word used to justify this move by BYU, is another way of attracting both money and fame. The relationship between exposure and money is mere symbiotics at work.
Kragthorpe, of the SL Tribune, stated back on August 19th that the ultimate benefit of their new found independent status was – you probably guessed it – money.
“The benefit for BYU will be not having to share bowl revenue with conference partners.”
Couple potential bowl revenues (that don’t need to be shared with 10 other teams) with its new TV contract(s) in place, and BYU is merely positioning itself to earn more money down the road and keep a bigger slice of the revenue pie, or rather the entire pie themselves.
So, what does this have to do with the church, or anyone else for that matter, and why should I care?
Well, the answer to that is that I probably shouldn’t care and mostly I don’t care. Will I watch more games now that BYU is on TV? Perhaps, but only considering I rarely watch any games at all, on any network.
A Parallel 10 Years in the Making
Nearly a decade ago the Church announced the renaming of Ricks College to BYU-Idaho in concert with a migration to a fully accredited four-year degree granting institution. This same announcement brought about the ending of the Ricks College athletic program (especially the football program, as football programs are the real money makers of any athletic program). As it turns out, a few other issues were also at play that have parallels with what BYU is doing today.
Football at Ricks College was more or less doomed the moment the church announced that the school would be converting to a full-fledged 4-year university, complete with accreditation from the Babylonian institutions that regulate such bodies. Some people champion the route Ricks College took in turning “its back on the ‘arms race’ that some critics say college sports has become and freed itself from the competitive pressures” that face universities with numerous sporting programs, especially in an era dominated by multi-million and billion dollar TV contracts.
What’s interesting about the decision is that Ricks College routinely sported one of the top junior college football programs, and many of its players went on to play division I football at major NCAA programs (like BYU). What’s even more interesting is that no one challenged the decision. Indeed, no one dared challenge the decision. As one article points out:
“But because Mormons view their president as a prophet, guided and inspired by Jesus Christ, no one challenged the decision. When the president speaks “the debate’s over,” Ms. Woodland says. “There’s no arguing.”
Hinckley stated that the changes would “extend the opportunity of secular education within the framework of a Church school, where is taught faith … .” David Bednar, who was president of Ricks at the time of the announcement, later referred to the decision as “historic.” One of the reasons for the change, incidentally, was the “expense of intercollegiate athletics.” As it turns out, BYU-Idaho could have done the same thing that BYU-Provo is doing today – namely migrate conferences and expand its reach and exposure. Well, they could have but for the fact that no one cared about the exposure of BYU-Idaho’s football program. In fact, had BYU-Idaho joined Division II of the NCAA (which it would have at the time), it’s athletic budget would have likely tripled. Instead of absorbing the cost and continuing on in hopes of new revenues down the line, the church made a financial decision based on real-life dynamics. The athletic programs were then transformed into a 4-tier “activities” program which, according to David Bednar, ran (and presumably still runs) at a “fraction of the cost.” It was an economic business model decision, and a completely understandable one at that.
What’s even more interesting is that if you follow the rest of that story you will read of an example where Bednar drew a line in the sand, a line which apparently doesn’t work with BYU’s main campus in Provo. Josh Clawson – one of the student athletic directors a few years back – related a story wherein Bednar supposedly stated:
“The day I see a linebacker rush the lineman, straddle him, point in his face, is the day I go onto the field, take the football, and the game is over.”
That game, coincidentally, was the newfound intramural football league which replaced the regular athletic program.
And yet, down in Provo, such lines are not only not drawn, they’re not even thought about. Max Hall (and many others) had (or have had) infamous falling outs with the competition. A few years back, Hall had once such encounter with Utah fans. If you remember, he merely stated “I don’t like Utah. In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, their fans. I hate everything.”
One might rightfully ask where the difference between pointing in someone’s face on the field or launching into a nationally televised diatribe revealing your hatred for some team is? The real difference, it would seem, why the athletic program at Ricks College was done away with was not so that students could focus on gospel oriented learning, as some suggest, but rather because the costs of continuing the program at the D-II level would have been prohibitive. Today, though, faced with signing a contract valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million over 8 years, BYU and Cecil Samuelson chose to take the most financially “beneficial” route, namely that of independence.
The “business model” with Ricks College athletics simply didn’t make sense.
The Church and BYU
As most know, BYU is a church owned institution. And this move towards independence had to be approved by the board of trustees made up of the first presidency of the church and some members of the quorum of the twelve. Today that group (the board of trustees) is made up of Monson, Eyring, Uchtdorf, Nelson, Ballard, Bednar, as well as a few others.
One article discussed the steps taken to reach independence internally by noting:
“BYU President Cecil Samuelson presented several scenarios to the school’s board of trustees, comprised of the LDS Church’s First Presidency, members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and other high-ranking church officials, Thursday and received approval to proceed with whichever route he sees as “most beneficial” to the mission of the church and the school, a source told The Tribune.”
Gain, Popularity and Seeking the Things of the World
So, my question is whether some of the scriptures in the book of mormon might apply here. If the main goal, at least according to statements from both the Athletic Director and President of the University, of a church run institution participating in an athletic program is to get exposure (fame/popularity) and make more money (gain), then is there something amiss that we should be recognizing?
Principally, this one:
“For the time speedily shall come that all achurches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become bpopular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the cdevil are they who need fear, and tremble, and dquake; they are those who must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be econsumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.”
I would argue that this move is rather obviously based on (a) getting gain, (b) becoming popular in the eyes of the world – i.e. exposure – and (c) seeking the things of the world, if not more. If that’s the case, then what are we really doing? Trading the power of God for acceptance and popularity? Is that not what we’re doing and, if so, why are we doing it when the scriptures tell us that “pandering for popularity is at the heart of priestcraft“?
Granted, I’m removed from Utah so I’m not entirely sure how this is playing out there in Happy Valley, but it’s likely being well received up and down the Wasatch Front. Indeed, I did read one comment which said if this move was approved by the “Board of Trustees” then no doubt it was the best decision the university could have made (i.e. the Board of Trustees is made up of the first presidency and members of the quorum of the 12 and, as such, they’re impervious to bad decision making). And, if so, then is it also true that the general sentiment is that a + b + c (above) are all good things? That that is what we should be doing and there’s nothing amiss? Namely, that there’s nothing wrong with seeking for more exposure and more money?
Borrowing from a new blog that I stumbled across today, the following quote provides the clarity we need:
“Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments” (D&C 82:14). Is Zion’s beauty increasing as we strip-mine the earth and tear down God’s world in pursuit of money? Is Zion increasing in holiness as we study “Gospel Principles” in Priesthood and Relief Society, taking us back to primary concepts that we obviously haven’t learned, unable to, as a community, search deeper into the mysteries of God (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 364)? Are [her] borders enlarging or is Babylon infiltrating our borders (that’s the border security issue with which we ought to be concerned)? Are her stakes strengthening or are we being uprooted and “tossed to and fro, carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14) (Think political parties and campaigns, military objectives, commercials and advertising, and the like)? Surely all is not well in Zion.”
What say ye?