Scott D. Pierce: The mtn.'s big problem is not thinking big enough

Published: Friday, Oct. 26 2007 12:23 a.m. MDT

WHAT CRAIG THOMPSON had to say to David Locke earlier this week has created still more bad feelings toward the Mountain West Conference and its television partners — although perhaps not entirely for the right reasons.

The Mountain West Conference commissioner told the always-entertaining Locke on KFNZ-AM 1320 that the conference could have cut a deal to put The mtn. on the Dish satellite system in the seven Western states that comprise the MWC footprint — but was holding out for a national deal. And the fans went crazy.

What was overlooked, to some extent, was Thompson's assertion that, at 1.2 million homes, The mtn. is well on its way to achieving its five-year goal of getting into 4 million cable homes.

If that's true, that's appalling. The people who approved this plan knew going in that it would take five years to reach cable distribution of four million homes?

To put that in some perspective, four million homes represents 3.5 percent of the TV-equipped homes in America. So if that five-year goal is met — and, at this point, it's hard to be optimistic about that — 96.1 percent of American homes won't have access to The mtn.

My assumption has been that The Powers That Be in the MWC went into this whole thing naively, not understanding just how difficult it would be to achieve something resembling adequate distribution for The mtn. If we accept Thompson's statement at face value, it goes beyond naivete.

It's one thing to admit to being overly optimistic. It's quite another to admit that you knew this horrendous situation would last for years.

Part of the MWC's plan, obviously, involves getting The mtn. on satellite systems. Between them, DirecTV and Dish reach something in the neighborhood of 30 million homes.

Of course, as we all know, The mtn. has been unable to get on either Dish or DirecTV. And then Thompson drops this bombshell that the league could have made some progress in that area.

Was holding out for the whole shebang the right thing to do? Certainly, BYU and Utah fans in areas of Utah that don't currently receive The mtn. on their cable systems have got to feel betrayed. Fans who did as the league and their respective school's athletic director asked and called Dish have got to feel betrayed.

On the other hand, there are a lot of fans in other parts of the country who would have felt betrayed if the MWC had left them out of the deal. Yours truly gets a whole lot of e-mail from fans (mostly Cougar fans, it's true, but no small number of Ute fans as well) who make it clear that they're suffering more than viewers in Utah because they can't get The mtn. no matter how much they're willing to pay for it.

If Comcast, which co-owns, manages and negotiates deals for The mtn., can pull off a national deal on Dish and/or DirecTV, then turning down a lesser deal will have been the smart move. But that's a big "if."

And we're nearing the end of a second football season trapped in a horrendous TV situation. It's hard to be optimistic anymore.

ONCE AGAIN, fans are calling for Thompson's job. But let's assign the blame where it really belongs.

The league commissioner doesn't set policy. He doesn't force television deals down the throats of the member schools. The presidents of the nine MWC schools made these decisions.

Once again, if you don't like the route a bus takes, you can't blame the bus driver. You blame his bosses who run the transit company.

Thompson is driving the MWC's bus, but the school presidents tell him what route to take.

SOME LOCAL FANS continue to complain that the Big Ten Network is on DirecTV and The mtn. is not.

Leaving aside that there are a lot more Big Ten fans than there are MWC fans, here's the simple fact: DirecTV co-owns and operates the Big Ten Network. Of course they're going to carry it.

And, by the way, the Big Ten Network hasn't had as much success getting on cable systems as it would like.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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