The Mountain West Conference is saved and likely, too, is the The Mtn., the conference's limited-reach television network. I say the network lives because I'm now theorizing that BYU abandons thoughts of football independence (and rejoining the raided WAC for all other sports) and stays in the MWC, which then adds Houston to form a 12-team league.
No way The Mtn. can survive losing Utah, which heads to the Pac-10 in 2011, and BYU, the two breadwinners for the network. So, now that The Mtn. has new life, it's time to get to work on finally expanding its reach. The conference's channel does not penetrate its two largest markets outside Salt Lake City, in Fort Worth and Mission Valley, Calif. (San Diego State University), via cable operators. Dish doesn't carry the channel at all and DirecTV, added before the 2008 season, requires purchasing additional programming.
"The Mtn. network has given some of the conference schools great exposure and some of the outlying schools not that good exposure," TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said. "We fall in the spectrum that we're happy we have The Mtn. It's been good for us for a lot of exposure for a lot of our sports in terms of recruiting. At the same time, we've had just as much difficulty trying to get the game on locally as anyone else. I'm just as frustrated with that."
It sure would be nice for TCU fans to be able to watch their conference's channel, not just for the games, but also the various programming offered covering the the Horned Frogs and the rest of the league. There just aren't that many places to turn for in-depth coverage of MWC teams.
TCU will play just one of its 11 televised games this season on The Mtn., on Oct. 2 at Colorado State, but that doesn't mean finding the Frogs on the tube any other weekend will be easy.
OK, two will be easy. The Sept. 4 opener at Cowboys Stadium against Oregon State and the Sept. 24 game at SMU will both be televised on ESPN, which orchestrated the TCU-Oregon State matchup. Otherwise, the conference's television package is awful and needs serious attention. Of TCU's other eight televised games, four will be on Versus and four on CBS College Sports. Honk if your thumbs can find those two channels on your remote control.
Neither channel is easily accessible.
Take Charter Cable in Fort Worth, for instance. To receive both channels, you'll need to order two separate packages above your basic package. With basic cable and satellite, TCU fans are shut out of the three networks that will carry 80 percent of TCU's games. That's not acceptable.
With the MWC adding Fresno State and Nevada in one or two years to reach 11 teams -- again, the thinking here is BYU stays -- and adding Houston to break into a major market, the MWC is in position (even without Houston) to sell its product to other networks, say reuniting with ESPN, an avenue to grow desperately needed television revenue for its schools as well as placing more games in more homes. Ironically, the MWC ditched ESPN because it was frustrated that the network stuck its teams playing on odd nights, like Tuesdays.
As for The Mtn.'s limited reach, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson acknowledges the obvious shortcomings, and regrettably so, particularly in Fort Worth (and Dallas) where TCU has emerged as a crown jewel of the conference. But, he also acknowledged that there is little movement in supposedly never-ending negotiations with the local cable providers.
Asked if progress is being made to get The Mtn. on TVs here, Thompson said blunty, "No."
If this new MWC has any stability whatsoever, breaking through on the TV side is Job 1.