The Mountain West and Conference USA have been working together to form a joint effort to gain access to the BCS by having the two conference champions play a game with the winner going to the BCS, but what maybe lost in the shuffle is that the two leagues have been looking to create a larger partnership in scheduling and television partners. Tuesday, C-USA announced a new television deal with Fox, and here is official release:
"According to terms of the agreement, FSN will showcase a minimum of 20 regular-season football games per season, a minimum of 10 regular-season men's and five women's basketball games, and a variety of Olympic sports events. The C-USA football championship game will also be carried on FSN, FX or the FOX Network. FSN programming is distributed nationally to more than 85 million homes through more than two dozen owned and affiliated regional sports networks."
Their deal begins for the 2011 football season.
This may mean nothing to the Mountain West or it could mean an extra few million dollars for the league. The big deal out of this is that ESPN now does not have a deal with the two best non-BCS leagues and it means that there is a demand for more football regardless of it being a BCS league or not. C-USA would play weekday games and draw better ratings for ESPN then poker, SportsCenter or replays of NFL Live. The BCS leagues already play Thursday night games and the occasional Friday night game, but ESPN could be on the verge of being shut out of a lot of football program and adding more Sun Belt or MAC games won't cut it.
The Mountain West is not on ESPN, now C-USA is leaving, the WAC is dead in two years -- or at least in having quality games to air on ESPN -- and if the new Pac-12 goes with their own television deal plus Fox then ESPN will be scrambling for football programming.
First off, I doubt the Pac-12 will go completely away from ESPN/ABC for games, but the amount could be the same or even less games then what ESPN shows now. Second, could ESPN want to keep their media darling Boise State on their own network? That decision belongs to Craig Thompson, the Mountain West's current television partners and the school presidents.
The current television deal runs through 2015-16 with The mtn., CBS College Sports and Versus so a deal with ESPN would require taking a few high profile games away from these partners. Plus, it would most likely mean few more weekday games which is something the league wanted to avoid. If the games are Thursday or Friday then I think the Mountain West would be fine with that.
Speaking in just football numbers, the amount of games for the Mountain West would top off at 10, if that, in my opinion. ESPN maybe willing to overpay for these games if they are left with either no college football or really bad college football.
Boise State fans seem to eat up any information or related information that may have an impact on the Mountain West television deal and try to put together a scenario that could put their Broncos back on ESPN. In reality if you have DirecTv and live in Boise nothing will change, well maybe worse announcing, and to get all three one needs the Choice Extra package which is just one step up from the most basic deal they have. So, the complaining by Boise fans -- and others in the Mountain West footprint -- need to stop balking about not seeing their team.
However, in this case there could be something here. ESPN needs week night programming and probably is willing to overpay to an extent to get Boise State and an up and coming Air Force and San Diego State team. Things could move quickly since the deal begins in 2011 and I am sure ESPN would love to air a Friday night matchup of TCU vs. Boise State.
The only hold up will come from the Mountain West and their television partner Comcast. This would bring more money to the league, but with the way Comcast operates there maybe nothing to this. Comcast reneged on verbal promises made to BYU, it took them almost two years to get The Mtn. on DirecTv and just finally started getting The Mtn. on the east coast where they are the major players in cable. So, even if ESPN were to come calling I am not sure the Mountain West could strike a deal. Comcast who currently owns the television rights through 2015-16 they would want to protect as many high profile games as possible in order to increase their distribution, and I doubt ESPN would want to pay good money for a lot of UNLV, Colorado State or New Mexico matchups.
Even though ESPN may inquire about Mountain West games I doubt anything will happen and the Mountain West will be tied to their current television deal until it expires.
The Mountain West chimed in on this when asked for a response:
"The Mountain West Conference does not comment on the substance of confidential contractual matters, including with respect to its television rights agreements. We intend to work with our television partners in private and will continue our dialog in this manner."