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Vegas bowl is a better TV draw

Now that things have calmed down a little bit, let's step back and look at the Mountain West Conference's decision to send its top team — or at least its top choice — to the Las Vegas Bowl instead of the Liberty Bowl.

We've heard all the arguments about whether it was the right thing to do or not. Whether playing a pre-Christmas game in Vegas is better or worse than playing a New Year's Eve day game in Memphis.

But, purely from a television standpoint, it's hard to argue that this is in any way a step down.

We can only guess what the ratings will be for games that are almost four months away featuring teams TBA, but here are some facts:

First, the Las Vegas Bowl will be played Thursday, Dec. 22, at 6 p.m. Mountain Time on ESPN. That means it will be seen in prime time in the Eastern and Central Time Zones, and will lap over into prime time the Mountain and Pacific Zones.

Second, the Liberty Bowl will be played Saturday, Dec. 31, at 11 a.m. Mountain Time. Which makes it an afternoon game Eastern and Central and mostly a morning game Pacific.

In almost any circumstance you can name, more people watch TV on a Thursday in prime time than on a Saturday morning or afternoon. A lot more. Even when it's New Year's Eve day. So the potential viewers will be greater — much greater — for the Las Vegas Bowl than for the Liberty Bowl.

Here's another set of facts: The Las Vegas Bowl pretty much has the college football crowd to itself on the night it's played. Its only competition comes 2 1/2 hours into the game, when the inaugural Poinsettia Bowl (which, ironically, also features a MWC team) kicks off.

Whereas the Liberty Bowl (featuring the depleted Conference USA's champ vs. an at-large team) will be up against the second half of the Meineke Car Care Bowl (featuring teams from the strengthened ACC, depleted Big East or possibly Notre Dame) and the first half of the Houston Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC).

And you could argue that, whatever team it turns out to be, the No. 5 choice from the Pac-10 (which will face the top choice from the MWC) will be a better TV draw than the first-place team in C-USA.

(Come to think of it, maybe the current lineup of C-USA — East Carolina, Houston, Marshall, Memphis, Rice, SMU, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UCF and UTEP — was another good reason for the Mountain West to cut ties with the Liberty Bowl.)

I can't, of course, guarantee more people will watch the Las Vegas Bowl than the Liberty Bowl. But, if you're looking at this simply in terms of how many people you might expect to see the games, the Mountain West certainly doesn't seem to have taken a step down.

USU'S GAME AGAINST Nicholls State originally scheduled for Saturday fell victim to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, but the Aggies weren't scheduled to be on TV, anyway.

Katrina did take out the Tulane-Southern Miss game that was supposed to be on ESPN2 Saturday afternoon. It has been postponed until Saturday, Nov. 26, although there's no word if ESPN2 will televise it.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com