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Doug Robinson: MWC TV situation frustrating

Published: Monday, Aug. 27 2007 12:28 a.m. MDT

As your friendly neighborhood columnist, I would love to make sense of the Mountain West's infamous ongoing TV fiasco for you.

But I'm not going to.

Nobody can.

It's the dumbest thing since the BCS and way more confusing than a Karl Malone press conference.

A year ago the Mountain West Conference dumped ESPN and took away local broadcasting rights to strike a deal of its own with something called The Mountain — aka The mtn. — a little network run out of Wayne and Garth's basement in Aurora, Ill.

Just one problem: The mtn. is carried by just 17 cable stations and zero satellite distributors. As the college football season begins Year 2 under The Great mtn. Blackout, BYU and Utah fans are outraged that the problem still hasn't been fixed and they still can't watch many of their team's games.

To view all of the games on cable, fans must live in the right place and have a cable package that includes some magical combination of Versus, ESPN, CSTV, Fox Sports Network, FSN, etc. Satellite people, you're out of luck. Come back next year.

Not that the Mountain West needs visibility.

These are the viewing instructions on the Utes' Web site for TV coverage of Thursday's opener against Oregon State: "(The game) will be televised by FSN NW and shown locally on FSN Utah. FSN Utah can be found on channel 52 (Comcast cable), 426 (Dish Network) and 651 (DirecTV). The game will also have national coverage on FSC Pacific."

Remember when there were three channels?

The Ute TV schedule consists of five games on The mtn., two games on Versus, one game on ESPN, three on CSTV, and one on FSN, which pretty much exhausts the alphabet. Good luck getting all of the above in your cable package.

Chris Bevilacqua, a one-time partner in CSTV, tried mightily to convince us of the virtues of the "bold" mtn. deal earlier this year in a letter published in Street & Smith's. In this quest, he utterly failed.

"Although The mtn. hasn't yet achieved the penetration levels," he wrote, "let's remember the agreement has been in effect for less than seven months (now 14). Since it's a 14-year pact, there is plenty of time to achieve the broad distribution this kind of programming rightly deserves."

Great. Pardon our construction, but just wait another 13 years while they figure this thing out. Meanwhile, root for a team from another conference.

The TV geeks and tycoons can talk about increased revenues and 14-year plans and increased number of games on TV, but it doesn't mean anything to the fans. While the big shots are plotting ways to squeeze more money out of "student-athletes," it all comes down to one question for the fan: Can I see my team play on TV?

(And by the way, can we say it now? The days of sitting on your whatzit with the remote and surfing TV networks from game to game on a Saturday afternoon are nearing an end, so get used to it.)

You have to hand it to The mtn. They've got a pretty good scheme going here. They got the Mountain West to sign this deal without having distribution deals signed, sealed and delivered, and now they've got fans doing their sales work.

The mtn. has launched an advertising campaign telling fans to call satellite companies to urge them to carry The mtn. The new ads feature Alex Smith and Ty Detmer coaxing fans to make the phone call.

It's not a bad scheme. They've got a motivated, free sales force of millions. Welcome to the Amway of college football. Not only do fans have to pay to watch the Utes and Cougars on TV now, they have to start a telemarketing campaign for the privilege of doing so. Many of them wind up getting voice mail and customer reps who have no idea what they're talking about.

"The sales force is getting tired of it," says Deseret Morning News BYU beat writer Dick Harmon. "They haven't gotten their commission yet."

They just need to give it another year or two — or 13.


E-mail: drob@desnews.com

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