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Scott D. Pierce: The mtn. has drawbacks, but so did ESPN

SHARE Scott D. Pierce: The mtn. has drawbacks, but so did ESPN

It's true that I — like a lot of sports fans who follow the Mountain West Conference — have some major problems with the league's deal with CSTV that created The mtn.

Well, one big problem, really. Availability of the channel. Or lack thereof.

(As one e-mailer put it, "If 130 men's and women's Mountain West Conference basketball games are telecast, but most people can't watch them, were the games really telecast?")

But misconceptions continue to abound about the situation that led to the decision by MWC presidents to forge the pact. A lot of fans are looking back at the expired ESPN deal through rose-colored glasses.

It wasn't that great. It wasn't as good as it used to be. And it was getting worse.

ESPN used the WAC (as constituted back when BYU and Utah were members), and vice versa, in its early years. But as the cable network turned into the TV sports behemoth that now stands astride the television landscape, it moved on to what it believes are bigger and better things. Namely the BCS conferences — ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC. And not just for football coverage.

Remember when the WAC/MWC got darn good exposure by playing Thursday-night football games on ESPN? That wasn't going to continue this past fall even if the MWC had stayed with ESPN. The ACC got a look at that darn good exposure and signed a deal that made it pre-eminent on the channel's Thursday football lineup.

A lot of non-BCS conferences have deals with ESPN, but that doesn't mean they get much in the way of coverage. The Dayton Daily News recently ran through ESPN's college basketball schedule and the results are enlightening:

There are 252 regular-season college basketball games this season on ESPN and ESPN2. Only 43 (17 percent) are matchups between two non-BCS conference teams.

On ESPN itself, there are only seven games between two non-BCS conference schools. Six of those featured either Memphis or Gonzaga.

That would mean a grand total of one — count it, one — non-BCS conference, non-Memphis, non-Gonzaga college basketball game on ESPN.

The fact is that if you're not in one of the BCS conferences, it's extremely difficult to get exposure for even your basketball team on ESPN.

Don't write in and tell me that the Mountain West is on a level above the Atlantic 10, the Mid-American Conference, the Horizon League, Conference USA and the West Coast Conference. Hey, I'm a homer, too — I agree with you.

But the fact is that as far as the folks at ESPN were/are concerned, the MWC is on that level. And whatever coverage the Mountain West would have gotten on ESPN would have been closer to what the Atlantic 10 is getting than to what the Big Ten is getting.

Again, I'm not minimizing the problems with distribution of The mtn. That situation is improving, but not nearly fast enough.

But there would be plenty of problems if the MWC were still tied to that ESPN behemoth.

ACCORDING TO THE MWC, some upcoming league games will be "nationally televised" on CSTV.

The most optimistic take of how many households CSTV is available in is about 20 million. That's about 18 percent of the 111.4 million American households that have at least one TV.

Twenty million households would be "nationally televised" in, say, Sri Lanka, Mozambique or Madagascar. Not the United States.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com