ALBUQUERQUE — We've been waiting for this.

For years, fans around the MWC have waited for somebody with some stripes on their shirt to step up and make some waves with ESPN. For years, the sports network has tagged conference fans with weird game starts, especially the 10 p.m., play-to-the-dead basketball extravaganzas that have taxed fans and ticket sales.

Now comes University of New Mexico athletic director Rudy Davalos, bless his Land of Enchantment heart.

ESPN called the league on the phone the other day. The network tried to throw some weight around. ESPN wanted UNM and Davalos to move Monday's 7 p.m. game with the nationally ranked Utes to 10 p.m.

That late ESPN slot is supposed to be San Diego State at Wyoming. But when it fit ESPN's interests, ESPN decided to try for a neat little switch-a-roo.

Davalos told ESPN: Go fish.

Davalos had his Lobo-Ute game set. Lobo fans have been poised and ready to come to a comfortable early night game. The long-laid plans of those 17,000 loyalists are the bread and butter of UNM's athletic program. "No," Davalos said.

Good for Rudy.

Nice to see somebody take a stand.

This isn't even addressing the issue of the slight and slam to the Cowboys and Aztecs, who got their turn for a late ESPN show, even if it's uncomfortable for Wyoming fans, many of whom travel long distances to support their team.

"(MWC associate commissioner) Dan Butterfly called me real early Tuesday morning — it didn't help that I was just getting up after Monday night's game," Davalos told the Albuquerque Journal.

"I just told them 'thank you, but no thank you.' There was no way I was going to move it. It's a horrible starting time, totally unfair for our fans."

The Lobos host BYU tonight in the Pit and get a crack at the Utes on Monday in what will prove a key weekend for the Utes, who are on the verge of marching through the league unscathed. They probably will do just that, regardless of game start times.

The move by Davalos smacks especially true and bold in light of ESPN's decision to ignore promoting MWC Monday night games when it has the chances.

It's as if the broadcasting giant is purposely ignoring the conference, just going through the motions until its contract with the MWC expires after the 2005-06 season.

Some speculate this may be result of the MWC opting to sign with CSTV after the pact expires. Davalos isn't drawing lines to his decision with the league's future TV plans and any raw feelings between the MWC and ESPN over their impending divorce.

But that lack of ESPN promotion for late Monday MWC games has been a matter of criticism around league circles all season.

No, Davalos is simply looking out for his flock.

What a shepherd.

I like it.

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Davalos does, however, join other MWC officials in expressing disappointment over ESPN refusing to promote league games.

Maybe it is spite over CSTV.

Said Davalos to the Journal on Friday: "Why else would it be (no promotion)? That has to be the reason. They haven't promoted our games all season and that's ridiculous, I don't understand it. I'd be totally upset if I was a sponsor, an advertiser. They act like we're not even there."

And then this pebble from Davalos' slingshot on ESPN's lack of MWC promotion: " . . . Those who made that call are not very smart."

Ouch.

Give it to them Rudy.

Ruuuudy. Ruuuudy. Ruuuudy.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com