One of the Mountain West Conference's television homes will remain the home of the National Hockey League through the end of the 2010-11 season. Versus will pay $72 million a year to retain its rights.

By means of comparison, the NFL currently rakes in $3.1 billion a year from its TV contracts with CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN. That's 43 times more than the NHL gets.

There is, of course, a reason the NFL makes all that money and the NHL does not. NFL ratings dwarf those of other professional sports leagues.

For example, this year's NFL playoffs — from the wildcard games through the conference championships — have averaged a 19.5 rating. That's nearly twice the 10.6 last fall's World Series averaged and more than three times the 6.2 last year's NBA Finals averaged.

By the way, last year's Super Bowl averaged a 42.6 rating — four times the World Series and nearly seven times the NBA Finals.

Last year's Super Bowl averaged 93.15 million viewers. (Not everybody watched all the game. CBS estimated that a total of nearly 140 million Americans watched at least part of it.)

And last year's Stanley Cup Finals averaged 1,725,000 viewers in the United States. That means 54 times as many people watched the Super Bowl.

NBC VS. VERSUS: As bad as the overall ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals were last year, they were far worse for Games 1 and 2, which aired on Versus.

The three games on NBC averaged 2.4 million viewers; the two games on Versus averaged 672,500 viewers.

Again, Versus is the biggest TV partner the Mountain West Conference has.

IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT distribution, of course. CBS is available in virtually all of the 112.8 million homes that have television in the United States, which is only about 1 1/2 times as many homes as Versus reaches.

And yet the Super Bowl was seen by 54 times as many people as the NHL's finals.

Even if the Mountain West Conference could make its games available in all 112.8 million homes, people still have to want to watch.

WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION to miking up players and coaches during a game? Has it ever resulted in anything interesting — as opposed to something embarrassing when the player or coach swears?

It's still astonishing that anybody thought it was a good idea to put a microphone on Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

CSTV is all excited about its coverage of tonight's Army-Air Force hockey game, which will include the Army coach's live, uncensored comments.

If you think they don't swear at the service academies, think again. Several years ago, my son was a ballboy at a basketball game involving Air Force, and he heard plenty.

AND STILL COUNTING: Today marks the 510th day that the Mountain West Conference, CSTV and Comcast do not have a deal to put The mtn. on satellite systems Dish or DirecTV.

(And that's just counting from Sept. 2, 2006 — the date of the first football game telecast by The mtn. It doesn't count the years leading up to that date.)

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