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ESPN Cougar games air late

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All things being equal — and they're not — you could argue that the Utah football team will get more exposure out of its two scheduled appearances on ESPN and ESPN2 than BYU will get from its three scheduled appearances on the all-sports cable networks.

It's about the timing. Specifically, kickoff timing.

The Cougars' revamped schedule has two of their home games headed for ESPN — the Saturday, Sept. 4, season opener against Notre Dame; and the Saturday, Sept. 18, matchup with Southern California. And the Friday, Oct. 8, game against UNLV will be on ESPN2.

But the first of those games is set to kick off at 7:15 p.m. and the latter two at 8 p.m. Mountain Time. Which is fine for local viewers and those on the West Coast. But if you're in the Eastern or Central time zones — where the majority of the nation's population resides — you're looking at games that won't end until pretty late.

While it's not hard to imagine Notre Dame fans staying up past midnight to see the end of the Fighting Irish-Cougars game, even big USC fans on the East Coast will be hard-pressed to stick around until 1:30 or 2 a.m. to see the end of the Trojans-Cougars contest.

And how many viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones are going to stay up until midnight or 1 a.m. for BYU-UNLV? I'm thinking not many.

Utah fans, on the other hand, won't have to stay up anywhere near as late no matter where they're located. The Utes' home opener against Texas A&M will be telecast by ESPN at 5:30 p.m. Mountain Time on Thursday, Sept. 2. And the Friday, Oct. 1, game at New Mexico is slated for 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

We're not really talking about fans of either Utah or BYU, however. Fans will stay up as late as they have to to see their teams play.

We're talking about national exposure for a couple of college football programs. And, while it certainly helps to be on ESPN or ESPN2, it helps more if you're on at an hour when there are viewers available.

(On the other hand, you could argue that — given their recent history — BYU might want to keep viewership of its games to a minimum in order to keep its exposure to a minimum, too. But I digress.)

Once again, all things aren't equal here. Notre Dame and defending national champion Southern Cal are big TV draws, which — in all probability — outweigh the late starting times. Texas A&M is a pretty big name, too, but there's no matching Notre Dame.

A more fair comparison would be the BYU-UNLV and Utah-New Mexico matchups. And, again, earlier is better.

The real point here is one that we talked about here a few weeks ago. The Mountain West Conference is going to get the less-desirable nights and less-desirable time slots, forced to (once again) take a back seat to the so-called big conferences. We may not like it, but there's nothing we can do about it.

Unless we can convince several million of our friends and relatives to move to MWC TV markets.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com