ESPN2 is scheduled to show Saturday’s University of Hawaii football game at Brigham Young, but the network’s interest in this one goes far beyond the three-hour plus time window it will occupy or the ratings it will generate.
ESPN has investments, sizable and fairly unique in college football, on both sides of the line of scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
It provides UH with a postseason platform, if bowl-eligible, and helps underwrite BYU’s independence through an exclusive TV deal and postseason guarantees.
For example, if the 6-1 Rainbow Warriors win the 4:15 p.m. (Hawaii time) nonconference game they will become bowl eligible and a prime candidate — but not as yet a lock — for the ESPN Events-owned and operated Dec. 22 Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium.
Small wonder that while ESPN says it will not have a bowl representative on scene in Provo, Utah, to make the once-traditional presentation, a network official noted in an email, they “will be watching with much interest.”
For as the fortunes of the ’Bows go, so, too, do those of the Hawaii Bowl, one of the longer-running properties in ESPN’s postseason lineup. The Warriors have appeared in eight of the 16 Hawaii Bowls and attendance is, on average, about 35 percent higher when UH plays.
“We work with the Mountain West Conference office as to the bowl selections; and while the Hawaii Bowl would be thrilled to host UH, it is premature to project as we have not begun those conversations, ”
Pete Derzis, senior vice president, college sports programming and events for ESPN said in an email. “Additionally, the College Football Playoff must release teams prior to any selection offers,” Derzis wrote.
The only time UH has been bowl eligible and not played in the game since the birth of the Hawaii Bowl was 2007, when the 12-0 ’Bows were selected for the then-Bowl Championship Series Sugar Bowl.
With just one appearance in the home bowl (2016) in the last seven years due to an inability to become bowl eligible, a return by UH would be especially welcome. This year it could also come with the added bonus of nailing down bowl eligibility early, a boon for ticket sales.
In part UH and ESPN owe the existence of the Hawaii Bowl to the 2001 regular-season finale, when the ’Bows stunned ninth-ranked BYU, 72-45. While the loss blasted BYU out of the running for a BCS berth it also focused attention on a deserving 9-3 UH team that was nevertheless left without a place in the postseason and a way to keep that from happening again.
Less than six months later, backed by the clout and investment of ESPN, the Hawaii Bowl was born.
Meanwhile, ESPN has a full-on partnership with BYU that has aided the Cougars’ survival as an independent. When BYU bolted the MWC it signed an exclusive eight-year TV deal with ESPN that is believed to pay the Cougars upwards of $6 million a year for their home games, such as Saturday’s contest with UH.
That deal, when compared with the $2.9 million Boise State earns, is cited as a contributing reason why BYU has eschewed a non-Power Five conference membership.
Moreover, ESPN has aided BYU’s scheduling and has created a place in its bowl lineup for the Cougars. When the Poinsettia Bowl, where BYU had been booked this year, closed its doors, ESPN stepped in and pledged to help the Cougars find another bowl. And in 2019, ESPN has earmarked the Cougars for a place opposite an MWC representative in the Hawaii Bowl.
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