Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The fat part of the bell curve

Before I get into the meat of today’s post, I want to introduce myself. Hi, my name is Adam.

I’ve been a BYU fan my whole life. When I was a kid I cheered for the Cougs with all of my little heart and soul while watching them in my jammy-jams. I loved going to games. The 1996 season was my absolute favorite. I’d watch every game, and then Sunday night I’d stay up and watch sports on KSL to find out where BYU would be ranked.

When the time came, I only applied to one college: BYU. I loved being a BYU student. While I was a student I bought an all-sports pass every year. It was a no-brainer. I went to every football game. Our pre-game hours were spent tailgating. We walked into LaVell Edwards Stadium decked out in blue (or white when the occasion called for it), and during the game my friends and I screamed until we lost our voices. Game days drained us of everything we had.

During basketball season, we used to stand in line for hours to be among the first inside the Marriott Center. And when we got inside we screamed and didn’t stop screaming until the game was over.

As part of my major, I wrote for the BYU daily newspaper, The Daily Universe. The first day of the semester our editor assigned us beats. I shot my hand up in the air and volunteered to cover the baseball team. I went to every game that year at BYU’s beautiful Miller Park, and I loved every second of it. Beyond baseball, I got to cover some off-season football press conferences, and I got to interview Dave Rose for a story I did about the basketball team. Writing for The DU was so much fun.

I graduated from BYU in 2008.

After I graduated, I immediately allocated money in our budget for the BYU Cougar Club. I’ve been a Cougar Club member for six years. Supporting BYU athletics was, and continues to be, important to me.

I replaced my all-sports pass with season tickets. I’ve been a football season ticket holder for six years. In those years I’ve only missed two or three games, and that’s only because I was traveling for my job.

I am not a fairweather fan. I am not a casual fan. I don’t come and go as I please. I am a lifelong BYU Cougar. I’m true blue, through and through. Not every BYU fan is like me. Not every BYU student or alumnus is like me. There are bigger BYU fans in the world, but not many.

And so when I say that independence is snuffing out my love of BYU football, hopefully now that means something to you.

And if independence is having such a negative effect on me, what is it doing to the huge part of the BYU fan population that isn’t as dedicated as me?

Here’s where the bell curve talk comes in. Imagine a bell curve—you all know what a bell curve is, right? Well if you measure intensity among BYU fans, I bet the distribution would look like a bell curve. On the extreme left you’d find people that are always apathetic. On the extreme right you’d find lifelong Cougars like me. But in the middle, the big, fat juicy part where 95% of the fan base resides, you’d find casual fans.

Casual fans have the capacity to swing to the left or the right. They become serious fans when the team is playing well, or when a big opponent comes to town; they become lazy fans when we aren’t playing well, or when there’s nothing to play for. They show up to games when things are good, they stay home when things are bad. They do what they want. They don’t feel pressure to support BYU; they don’t feel like it’s their duty, or that they have some sort of special loyalty to the team or the school. If they want to come to a game, they will. If they don’t, they won’t.

If independence is shaking me, it’s got to be killing casual fans in droves.

If you were in LaVell Edwards Stadium for the last half of the 2014 season, you saw a stadium that was maybe half full. The stadium didn’t sell out all year, but the last three games against Nevada, UNLV and Savannah State were particularly terrible.

And TV ratings are down, too. I crunched some numbers (thanks to SportsMediaWatch.com for the data), and BYU’s ratings are down about 27% from 2013 to 2014.

I think it’s pretty obvious that independence isn’t working. In fact, I would say it’s killing BYU football. Beyond the quantitative data, like attendance and TV ratings, I also have anecdotal evidence.

My brother is also a BYU grad, and a BYU fan. But he’s in the fat part. He won’t “waste his time” on BYU sports if he’s not interested, but will gladly cheer for the team, go to games and get on board if there's something to cheer for. Suffice it to say, he hasn’t been interested in BYU football since 2010, with some exceptions. He doesn’t really watch games, doesn’t really care about the team. Think what you want about him or fans like him, but he represents the vast majority.

I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who is seriously considering becoming a Utah fan because BYU’s games are so meaningless. This is the same friend that used to heckle Utah fans mercilessly as they were walking into LaVell Edwards Stadium for our annual meeting with our hated rivals.

My dad is also a Cougar Club member and season ticket holder. He’s thinking of giving up both because he’s so disgusted with independence.

If I did any sort of digging whatsoever, I’m sure I could find thousands and thousands of stories just like this. But I still love BYU. And going forward I will still probably go to as many BYU football games as I possibly can.

BYU doesn’t have to worry about guys like me. But they should be worried—very worried—about the fat part of the bell curve.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Is BYU obsessed with money?

I just got an email from the BYU Cougar Club informing me of an upcoming luncheon featuring men’s basketball head coach Dave Rose, and some other coach. Women’s cross country or something.

I know, right? Can you believe I’m a member of the Cougar Club?

Anyway, I love these luncheons. I’ve been going to them for years. It’s fun to hear from the coaches, and a nice little meal is a cool perk for being a part of the Cougar Club.

But sometimes the meals aren’t nice. Like this coming luncheon, for example. The sponsor/caterer is IHC. Intermountain Health Care. The hospital. Now why on earth would BYU, at a luncheon featuring the most popular coach in the entire athletic department, feed some of its biggest boosters hospital food?

I don’t know for sure, but the official answer is probably something like “BYU has a strategic partnership with IHC, and a relationship that goes back decades…” blah blah blah.

I have a feeling it’s a money thing. I bet BYU gets free food (or maybe IHC even pays BYU?), and in return IHC gets some publicity for their healthcare services. Once more, just to be clear, we’re talking about a healthcare provider catering a booster luncheon (“Come for the MRI, stay for the hot wings!”).

I get the impression that BYU likes money. They like saving it, and they like earning it. Who doesn't? But BYU might take it too far. This luncheon is just the kind of evidence that tells me BYU might be obsessed with money. How about some more?

  • BYU’s football independence. Big money deal for BYU. We get lots of TV money (no one knows how much, but it’s a lot more than we were making in the MWC), and we get all the bowl money if/when we get an invitation to a bowl game. 
  • EVERYTHING has a sponsor. From the Grandma Sycamore Bread third down conversion, to the NuSkin video board, to the little Alaska Airlines logos you see when you look at the basketball schedule online. EVERYTHING at BYU is sponsored. 
  • BYU can’t stop talking about how its athletic department makes money, while the majority don’t. Yes, that is something to be proud of. I’m proud of it. But I would be much more excited, as a fan, if we were winning tons of games and going to NY6 bowls. Do you think Ohio State fans are pissed off because their athletic department is losing money?

It’s not a big deal to be obsessed with money, I suppose. College sports is a business, after all. But where I start to get a little miffed is when money gets in the way of what’s best for the sport.

Say, for example, that BYU is invited to join the Big 12, but we wouldn’t be a full money-sharing partner for five years. Do you think BYU would take that deal? I don’t.

Or say a top basketball recruit chooses Utah over BYU because Utah has a better basketball practice facility. And the only reason why BYU doesn’t have a similar facility is because a private donor hasn’t given them enough money for it. Are you okay with that? I’m not.

Props and kudos to the BYU athletic department for being profitable when so many others aren’t, but I sincerely hope their desire for money isn’t hurting the program in the long run. I hope BYU is ponying up the dough for its teams.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

BYU football independence: Pros and cons

I am no fan of independence, but that doesn't mean I don't recognize its advantages. Independence has some serious advantages over G5 (even P5) conference affiliation. But to me, none of independence's advantages matter.

To you, though, they might. 

Here are the pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, of independence, as I see them. If I'm missing something, let me know. Otherwise, look it over and decide which camp gets your support.

Independence Pros:
  • Money, money, money. We get lots and lots of money as an independent. We signed our own TV deal with ESPN worth lots of money, and every time we go to a bowl game we get to keep all the prize money to ourselves. Hooray for money! 
  • ESPN. Like I said in the above point, we signed our own independent TV deal with ESPN (NOTE: This deal is for BYU home games only. When BYU plays away games, they are subject to that school's TV agreement.). I don't know all the details of the deal, but I think the contract says we'll have at least like three games on either ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU a year, and those games will take place on either Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays. ESPN has the option, of course, of picking up any home games they want and showing them on whatever channel they want. ESPN has also granted us re-broadcast rights, so we can show game replays on BYUTV. Speaking of which...
  • BYUTV. ESPN has been very good to us in regards to BYUTV. They let BYUTV broadcast at least one home game every year, and they're totally cool with BYUTV airing replays of home games.
  • Scheduling. As an independent, we (in theory) have the freedom to schedule anyone in the country, any time during the football season. This is why have played and will play games against Wisconsin, Texas, Notre Dame, Cal, Missouri, Nebraska, West Virginia, Stanford, USC, and so on.
  • Exposure. Because we have our own TV deal, and because we play all over the country, we get lots and lots of opportunities to get our name out there. Build the BYU brand. And we also have a pretty nice little national fan base who gets to come watch some BYU football in their various necks of the woods when we take our team on the road. Thousands of southern-fried BYU fans made the trip to see BYU play Middle Tennessee State earlier this year, for example. And when we do something memorable, like beat the heck out of Texas on their home field, we get lots of credit for it. 
Now for the cons.

Independence Cons:
  • No guarantees. As an independent, we are on an island. Concerning post-season play, we have no contracts, no stipulations, no tie-ins, no guarantees. I'm not saying we can never have those things as an independent (Notre Dame does), but so far we haven't been able to negotiate or wiggle our way into any kind of bowl agreement (let alone any kind of agreement with the Playoff or the NY6).
  • No explicit NY6 or Playoff access. Since BYU is not affiliated with any conference, we don't have any guaranteed access to the NY6 bowl games or the College Football Playoff. All we have is the hope that we can win enough games to get us high enough in the rankings that one of those bowl games would make us an at-large selection. We'd have to be at least in the top 10 for that ever to happen... probably more like top five. 
  • One and done. For BYU to get into the top five, they'd probably have to go undefeated. MAYBE they could get there with one loss if their schedule was super tough. Most years, though, when BYU loses once their dreams of an NY6 game or a national championship goes up in smoke. And then after that first loss it's just exhibition games until we get to whatever low-tier bowl game we have an agreement with that year. 
  • No conference championships or awards. Whether you think it's a big deal or not, the fact is we have no conference championship trophy to play for. And no weekly or annual conference awards for players. Which feeds into the whole one-loss "nothing to play for" scenario described above. 
  • Home scheduling. Yes, we can schedule (and have scheduled) big-name teams to play us all throughout the year as an independent. But the vast majority of those big-time games are a long ways away from Provo. And the return trips are a long ways into the future. Take our recent agreement with Missouri: BYU will play Missouri next year in Kansas City, and then Missouri will come back to Provo in 2020. Or Wisconsin. BYU played Wisconsin in Madison last year, but they won't come play us in Provo until 2019. Or Notre Dame. On the day we announced our independence, we also announced a four-away, two-at-home series with Notre Dame. They agreed to play in Provo twice at a date later to be determined. Well BYU played twice in South Bend, but Notre Dame has yet to schedule any return trip. Meanwhile, our home schedules have been filled with FCS teams like Idaho State and Savannah State, or G5 teams like UNLV, Utah State and Nevada.
  • Other home scheduling woes. ESPN has the TV rights to our home schedule, so they can schedule our games for whatever times suit them best. That means BYU vs. Nevada is three-and-a-half hours of content ESPN can use on a Friday night in October at, say, 10:30 p.m. Eastern. Fine for them, but as a fan it's no fun watching a BYU football game at 8:30 p.m. in November.
I think that's about it, although I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting at least one more con... oh well. 

So as a BYU fan (I'm assuming you are one) you have to ask yourself what's important. Is it money? TV time? Lots of travel around the country? Then independence is for you.

Or do you value NY6 access? Conference championships? Meaningful regular season games? If yes, then you are like me, and would rather BYU be in a conference (G5 or otherwise).