Holmoe talks BYU football, ESPN contract, bowl future and finances in semi-annual Q&A

BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe. Holmoe met with local media on March 1 to discuss a variety of topics. (Maddi Driggs)

BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe held his semi-annual question and answer session with reporters on Wednesday, March 1 at the new Marriott Center Annex.

The conversational-style press conference addressed a wide variety of topics, including conference expansion, social and political pressures and long-term future plans for BYU athletics as a whole.

Power five conference situation:

“We went through this experience of speaking with the Big 12 regarding their proposed expansion and it was a great experience for us. We learned a lot about ourselves. When I said that, people said ‘What does that mean?’ I think we always know better than anybody who we are, and what we’re all about. I think when delved into a lot of the details, and you put it all together, and you take a real, real close look under a microscope, you start to learn things and see things differently. I felt really good about that and speaking with our coaches and our student-athletes, we felt that it was a good spot to be in. We’re a strong school. The things that we’re doing right, we always would love to be part of a P5, I’ve made that point known a lot, but it didn’t happen for a number of reasons. Going forward, we’re going to just continue to compete and do the best things that we can with where we are and what we have, which is a good spot and hopefully we’ll continue to have success.”

On potential expansion in the near future:

“Right now there’s not very much. Every once in a while someone will say something out of the blue, but I would anticipate that probably the next opportunities that it would occur would be when the TV contracts come up. That’s a natural time when the conferences would take a look at it. It’s disruptive for conferences to talk about this and go down that road, so I wouldn’t anticipate that they would do that before then unless there was something that happened to force it to happen.”

The Big 12 ‘leading BYU on’ during expansion consideration:

“I don’t really feel like they led us on. I really feel — and I may be wrong — but I feel that they really wanted to do this. I don’t think everyone in the conference wanted to do it, but it is a conference and they have the membership of the conference, and they voted to do it. Whether it was the presidents, or the ADs, or how the coaches felt, I’m not really sure about that. But going through the process as we did, I felt really good about it. It was a good process. We were able to say and show and do everything we needed to do to put our best foot forward. I just think that the information that came out after they got into the process, they just made a business decision and a decision among the conference, which they could, to stop and not do it. So I don’t think they misled us, but they changed direction once they started.

The politics that became involved during the expansion process:

“I think nowadays whenever something big happens, there are going to be people on either side of an issue, whether it’s politics or whatever. In athletics, it’s very public and a lot of people care about athletics, and so I just figured that that was probably something we’d have to work through and I think we did a good job of that.”

Social issues that received attention during expansion process:

“Everyone’s aware that there was an issue that came up and we addressed it. It was a great opportunity really for our campus as people brought things to the table. I think that was one of the positive things that came from the discussions on campus since that process we went through. We’ve had numerous opportunities to get together and discuss and look at the way we’re doing things on campus and we feel great about things that we’re doing to project us into the future in regard to those.”

Seeing things differently after the expansion process:

“I think the most important things is that we looked at our strengths and our weaknesses, and our strengths were strong in a lot of areas. When you look back over the years of BYU football and basketball, primarily, but all the other Olympic sports, we do things that most schools can’t do or have done. When you put that down on paper, and you examine it and compare those things to schools that are in power five conferences, we compete like a power five school not in a power five conference. To look at that, and to do it through all the years – and I’m not saying that each and every year we’re at the top – but through the years the things that we have accomplished, a lot of schools in the P5 haven’t. A national championship, major award winners, a Heisman Trophy, two players of the year in basketball, there’s a lot of great P5 schools that can’t say they have that. And the numbers kind of speak for themselves. So we all kind of consciously or subconsciously, feel that BYU has a really good program, but when you start to compare it puts you in a position where you think we can do this. Now preparing for the future and what it might be, we realize that playing in those conferences is very, very difficult. Very tough. And we’d like that opportunity sometime.”

“I was disappointed and frustrated for about two or three days, and then you’ve just got to turn the page and move on. It was frustrating because I thought it was really close. I really believe that we had a great chance. I speak to the ADs in the conference and they’re really matter-of-fact about the business part of it and the discussion and what they wanted. I get that, they’re part of a conference and they do things in that way. When they decide to do it, for me to sweat over it or worry or look back, it makes no sense. Just chalk it up to experience and move on.”

Moving on for the time being:

“One of the things that people were saying ahead of time was ‘What do you do if you don’t get in? Are you going to be nervous?’ Well, we didn’t and we had success. You can measure it however you want, but I feel really confident about our programs and where we are and what we can do but we’ll just have to do it in this space and not in the space we desired.

Financial impact of being left out of power five conferences:

“It doesn’t hurt you financially, it’s just really a matter of what’s comparable. We were looking at the potential dollars. That’s not the reason you do it. The main reason that we wanted to do that was to compete to have our kids be in this situation where they go against the very best week in and week out, day in and day out, and compete against the best players and teams.”

“When you know you’re not going to have that (financially), then you have to chart a different course. One of the things that came about in this discussion with the P5 conference, was that our Cougar Nation responded. The major donors stepped up in a big way and closed that gap more than we thought they would. We had bigger donors and a lot more donors come to the plate. In the world of athletics, it’s interesting. You finish off a season, you have great success and then you start over. You have a new team, new players, new coaches, new seasons, new donors and you got to start over. Every year. So we’re used to that. The goal changes, and that’s one of the things — our financial goals. Every year we try to increase them. You’ve got to be realistic though. So I think as a result of that, we came back and said, ‘OK, this didn’t occur. We’re not going to be dealing with these figures, we’re going to be dealing with these figures and potentially a little bit more. Let’s do the best we can.’ There’s one thing we learned: it’s that we make the most out of the finances that we have. And that felt good to us. It felt good to our donors, it felt good when our coaches and administration looked at that and we see what we can accomplish with that.”

“Each and every year, that gap (between P5 and non-P5 programs) grows. But I can’t worry about that. We can’t worry about it. In the first year, I think we overcame it and hopefully, staring out in the second year, we’ll do it again. But we have to continue to be successful and there’s ways to be successful other than money. That’s where we’re going.”

The ESPN deal:

“It’s a great relationship. Every year in the relationship, new things occur. It gets stronger, we have greater collaborations and new creativity. ESPN is changing as we watch. We’re changing, and together we feel good about each other. I really respect that company and the people that run it, the people that are the face and the talent, and then they feel really good about what we’re doing. We have had numerous opportunities and discussions about extending the contract, and with two years to go, this is probably about the time to start coming to fruition on that.”

New media and changes in the cable industry:

“There is new media and every year there’s something new. We’re going to be with ESPN. I don’t think there’s anything right now that’s on the plate or in the near future that you can say is going to turn that upside down. ESPN has been so good to us. We’re going to be with them. It’s just a matter of what happens in the future and I think we grow together. We’ve been able to do some things that with the new platforms that do not conflict with the contract. I think a great example is how willing they are to allow us to do things with BYUtv. So we have the best of both worlds to have both of those opportunities.”

On potential return to a non-power five conference:

“I would say you always leave opportunities open for the future because you don’t know what the future brings. But right now, where we are, we’re in a good space. We feel good and that we’ll continue to chart this path. I think our coaches, who are stable – student-athletes kind of come and go – I think the ones we have right now feel good about where we’re at and what we can accomplish.”

Pursuing home-and-home with Tennessee and SEC games this season:

“We’re going to pursue the Southeast Conference because it’s a great conference and the teams in the conference are great traditional teams and incredible places to go play. The SEC is a really strong conference and if they want to play and propose a game, we’re going to go after it. I don’t know if it’s saying ‘Hey, we can beat them;’ I’m just saying we can play them. We go back to Mississippi State now and then have LSU in a neutral site, but the future games will always be tough.”

BYU’s bowl situation:

“It’s unknown right now. In our relationship with ESPN, we actually, a year from now in 2018, didn’t have that settled yet. That was one of the things early on we didn’t have a game there. So now it turns into two games in a row. We’re talking with ESPN right now to try to fit in a bowl game. It’ll be interesting to see how that works. ESPN has bowls that they own and a lot of great relationships with those conferences.”

“I pretty much leave that up to ESPN because we’re not in a position to say what we want. Even in the games in the past when we negotiated these games even when we had an opportunity to play some of these games we pretty much allow ESPN to go to major conferences that have contracted games and they’ll work with them and then they’ll come to us and say ‘What do you think?'”

“ESPN is such a leader in the bowl season with all their connections with the conferences, with the schools and the personalities involved with the bowls themselves that I feel really confident that one way or the other, we’re going to end up in a bowl, if we’re bowl eligible. I can’t really say right now what it’s going to be. Somebody suggested that we should go independent. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t do that because all the bowls are contracted with conferences.”

Student-athletes and the honor code:

“I think those conversations occur on campus more often than the public would know. We’re always refining and I have a real close relationship with the people involved and it’s been great. You may have read that some things have changed up on campus, President Worthen put together a task force to examine things and came back and there were a few new policies on campus. I think those are very positive and point us in a great direction.”

“The honor code is a very big part of campus life for student-athletes and students. I think a lot of times nationally people will only hear about the honor code in terms of someone getting suspended, but two weeks ago it was honor week on campus and I didn’t see one article about honor week. We only have two meetings a year with all the student-athletes and that’s one of them. We had some student-athletes speak on honor and what it means and it was an incredible day for me to be there and see all of our kids there, to have them discussing and talking and you see a side of it that no one sees. I think it’s really special.”

The men’s basketball season:

“People are impatient with lack of exceptional results. It’s been and up and down year as Dave would say, and I know each one of those players extraordinarily well. I believe in each one of those players. We saw great flashes of brilliance and some tough, tough times. I like the fact that we’ve got a young team and they’ve got a couple of years together. I feel good about the present and the future. This is a young team, a talented team, but a team that has been prone to making mistakes.”

On football scheduling becoming easier:

“I’d never say easy, but I think that as conferences and teams see how kind of how we’ve done this, and they talk to other schools and see that BYU can be a wildcard. One of the things we’ve been able to do with ESPN is we help out a lot of schools, and that’s how we get these games. If we get a game with a really strong P5 school, it’s not necessarily that they called us up saying ‘Tom you want to play? Good.’ It usually comes down to there was a difficulty in a schedule down the road with other teams, and we can help. There’s usually a set of dominoes that goes into place and if we do this, it helps three or four other teams. So we’re able to help other people and help ourselves.”

The return football game remaining with Notre Dame:

“This is something that Notre Dame eventually will have to decide how they want to do that. Right now, as I talk to people, some people are frustrated that nothing is happening. But to me, I’m going to say somewhere down the road if they come and play in Provo, that would be a good thing because they owe us a game in Provo. Or, if they don’t want to play, we get a good payday. So both of those things are good things. I’m not going to worry about it right now.”

Kalani Sitake’s second year as football head coach:

“It’s great. He’s brought a spark of life to some people that weren’t involved. One of the things I see is there’s a lot more people that weren’t really involved in BYU football that are now. We had a great program for many years and there’s a transition, you’re always nervous with transitions, and I think he brings things to the table that are unique to his personality and his skills. It was a really good first year and he’s extraordinarily honest and so I really know what he feels about things and we have good discussions and talk about personnel and situations. He’s a humble guy so he comes out with it and you know where he stands.”

Coach Sitake being at the airport to welcome home the basketball team after the Gonzaga upset:

“This is college life. It’s good PR, but I would say don’t think he’s just looking for PR. He doesn’t need publicity. He does it because he likes BYU, he likes the student-athletes, he likes the ROC, and to see him down at the airport, he was in his environment. He loves that stuff.”

On the cancellation of the BYU-Utah rivalry basketball game:

“I don’t think there’s much to hide. There was a decision made not to play. They didn’t want to play and so we didn’t have a contract. You know all the things, the forces externally, I had nothing to do with that. So I don’t really care to comment. It’s not my business, it’s their business. I’m just excited we’re back with them. Chris Hill and I talk, we’ve spoken a few more times in the past couple weeks about things and I think it’s good. I think we’re back to kind of normal, we have scheduled games and we’re looking to the future.

Things the program could do differently in the future regarding expansion:

“We had a lot of people that were in, that when we went through the process, we asked them to come in and be a part of it. Not just give a donation, but how can you help us? We’ve got a lot of smart, really bright, creative minds that are BYU graduates and/or friends of BYU. So we went to them and said, How can you help? because they can do it better than us. We got a lot of great help and a lot of great ideas. We got a lot of crazy ideas, but I loved every one of them. We couldn’t use some of them — some of them were non-compliant. Most of them were non-compliant. But a lot of them were great that we put into action. One of the things we’re doing is saying, ‘Keep coming.’ Give us ideas. These are champions of industry and technology. We’re calling on those people and they love doing it. We can always get money, I’m not underestimating the influences of the finances, but some of these people they can give us things that no one else can give us — that’s direct, intellectual property. They give us things that are really good that only they know from their company, their experience, their education.”

Expanding LaVell Edwards Stadium:

“I don’t know if it’s practical, but I think it’s a great idea. Practically right now, we don’t sell out. So it would be silly to put in another 20,000 more seats because the seats you would put in would be in the corner. If you want to put an upper-deck on, that would be great. I can picture an upper-deck. Probably not in my administration, but I could picture that. It looks great. The big thing right now though is not necessarily seats, it’s hospitality. I think those are the things we’re turning our attention to. It used to be where you’d come play a game and it was all about the game. Now people come to the game for social, hospitality, they come to see things other than the game. I don’t think our big donors or our Cougar Club people want another seat. They’ve got their seats; they want to make it an event.”

Student support:

“I’m really proud of our students because around the country, the student attendance drops off like crazy, and ours is strong. It’s really a feather in their cap. To me, that’s a sign that they love the college experience.”

Coach Dave Rose extending his contract:

“With most of the coaches at BYU, we don’t even talk about that until the time comes. I usually approach with a period of time coming up on a contract. There were times this season when the stress and strain are tough, but I’ve spoken with him and his energy level is high. After Saturday, he’s hungry and he’s got a great young team, and he’s not going to leave that.”

Potentially meeting Utah in the NIT this season:

“We’ll see how that plays out. Conspiracy theorists already have it done. If it happens, it happens. It happened with the bowl game so somehow people want us to play. It’s going to happen one way or the other. It would be very ironic if it happened that way, but if it did, it would be a good match up.”

Women’s programs excelling:

“I think we have a really good competitive advantage in that we have really great coaches in some of our Olympic sports and I think some of the best coaches in the country at their sports. I think that in those Olympic sports, more so than football and basketball, that the LDS kids will come to BYU at a higher clip. Now that’s not an automatic. Those coaches have to really, really recruit.”

Beating Utah in football:

“It’s very important. I grew up in L.A., so I watched the UCLA-USC rivalry for as long as I can remember to the point where I would cry as a kid when UCLA would lose. I don’t like losing to Utah, but I like the competition. You’re going to win those games. When you do, you’re on the other side of it. There’s nothing that makes your heart beat more and make you feel that sense of accomplishment than being able to go into that game and win the game.”

Plans to honor LaVell Edwards during the football season:

“We have some plans. There will be some things that we do, but his influence is always going to be there. It’s not going to be just one shot — we’ll do a lot of things as long as I’m here.”

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