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Scott D. Pierce: MWC's bid to bolster schedule hurt by its TV situation

Published: Friday, Oct. 16 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Earlier this week, the Deseret News reported on the difficulty BYU is having with its football schedule.

Jeff Call wrote in Tuesday's editions, "As of now, after 2010, BYU is not scheduled to play a single automatic-qualifying BCS school. But it's not for a lack of trying."

But it may be that BYU, Utah and the other seven members of the Mountain West Conference are fighting for high-profile games with one hand tied behind their backs by the league's TV deal.

A friend (who wanted to remain nameless) who works at a TV sports network pointed out that MWC teams have a problem when it comes to scheduling a home-and-home series with, say, Ohio State. Buckeye fans expect to be able to see their team play. And there's considerable skepticism out there that they'd be able to see their team play a road game in a MWC stadium.

Most of them have never heard of The mtn. Some of them probably get the channel as part of their DirecTV subscription and aren't even aware they have it.

You could certainly argue that a high-profile (theoretical) game like Ohio State at BYU, Virginia Tech at Utah or Miami at TCU would probably end up on either Versus or CBS C. But it wouldn't matter. Neither is exactly a household name at this point — even though Versus is in about the same number of homes as the Big Ten Network.

(Depending on whether Versus gets back on DirecTV.)

Certainly, television isn't the only impediment to scheduling big-name teams from automatic qualifying, BCS conferences. In his story on Tuesday, Call reported on a slew of other difficulties.

But the MWC's TV situation is a contributing factor.

VERSUS ON THE RISE? First of all, as of this writing, there is no deal between Versus and DirecTV. If no agreement is reached soon, that's going to be a problem because both the Air Force-Utah and TCU-BYU games are scheduled to air on Versus on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Sigh.

Maybe DirecTV would be wise to get a deal with Versus while the getting is good. Because maybe the cable network will soon be in a much stronger position.

If you haven't kept up with the TV industry buzz, it appears that General Electric and Comcast are close to a deal that would give Comcast control of NBC Universal. It's complicated, but the end result would be that Comcast would own 51 percent of NBCU and would combine its cable networks with NBC and its cable networks.

Comcast owns Versus. And there's talk that Comcast envisions combining Versus with NBC Sports to create a channel that would be a genuine competitor to ESPN.

Whether Comcast and G.E. can pull the deal off remains to be seen. In addition to all the financial details, there are regulatory issues to be resolved that could take a year or more.

Whether Versus can rival ESPN is open to speculation. But it's at least possible.

Of course, if Versus really did become a big-time cable sports network, how much interest would it have in the Mountain West Conference?

Sigh.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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