The last few years, Utah has struggled with exposure. In 2008, it was the big reason why no one really bought into their ability until their huge Sugar Bowl win. This season, the biggest game in Mountain West history found its way to CBS College Sports. A sports channel that is part of a special sports package and though they offered up a free preview last week, how many casual sports fans actually knew they were getting it? I'm guessing a very small few.
Likewise, Utah's final major conference Holy War will take place on...the mtn. Not Versus. Not CBS College Sports. Not a simulcast of the three. No, it'll solely be played on the mtn.
This is a big reason why I can't wait for next year. Yes, next year (and next year only), it looks like some of Utah's games won't be broadcast on any television and that will hurt. But I think that's the price you pay for the big games, the Holy War and conference showdowns against ranked opponents, to be broadcast on ESPN, ABC and yes, even FOX Sports.
This hasn't happened for the Utes since 2005. That was the final year the Mountain West had a contract with ESPN and ABC. In 2006, the formation of the mtn. created an entirely new template of what not to do when it comes to getting the best exposure for your football programs.
That's not to say it's all been bad. Since 2006, almost every Utah game has been aired in some form. That was something you could not get ten years ago.
But at what expense? Was it really worth not having a game on ESPN or ABC? I'm not so sure and that definitely won't be a problem come next year. If both SC and Utah are ranked heading into their first conference showdown in Los Angeles, you better believe that game is going to be regionally aired on ABC.
The last time the Utes played on ABC? UNLV in 2005. That's quite a long time and though the program has survived and actually bettered itself throughout the blackout period of 2006-2010, you've got to wonder what they could have done if the Mountain West still had ties to ESPN.
The Oregon State game in 2008 comes to mind. That was a Thursday night game. It was always going to be on a Thursday and probably would have been picked up by ESPN had the network owned some rights to the Mountain West games. What type of leverage does Utah get out of beating the Beavers, who a week prior had defeated #1 SC, on ESPN? It certainly would have dominated that night's sports news. Similarly, the Utes played TCU on a Thursday night that season and that game most assuredly would have been broadcast on ESPN had the conference not severed its ties with that network.
At that point, it was the biggest game in Mountain West history. Yet it only aired on Versus and I'm guessing a great deal of potential viewers were lost because of it.
Of course, playing on ESPN wasn't perfect. Boise State is seeing this first hand. Two weeks ago, they played Louisiana Tech on a Wednesday and this week, they play Idaho on a Friday.
That type of scheduling is bad for programs. It's bush-league. In that regard, the Mountain West did something about the poor scheduling. But I'm not so sure it justifies removing the conference entirely from the national scene and for the last four years, that's exactly what has happened.
Now that is no longer a problem. The Utes are heading to a conference with a much better television deal. They'll have one game on Thursday next year (the season opener against Montana State) and the remainder will be played on Saturday. A few of those games will take place on real national television. Just as tomorrow's game will.
It'll be a nice break from big games being played on stations people don't even know they have. It'll be nice knowing next year, each major home game has the potential of being on ABC or ESPN. In 2005, that was the case. But by 2010, our big opener against Pittsburgh found its way to Versus.
If the Mountain West wants to be taken seriously over the next few years, they've got to figure out a better television deal. If they don't, the conference is going to continue struggling in the eyes of many because they won't have a legitimate platform to air the conference's biggest games.
Next year, unless a miracle happens, the big showdown between TCU and BSU will take place on CBS College Sports.
That is ridiculous. Thankfully for Utah, they're almost done with that type of big game scheduling. Saturday's contest will be on NBC. Then it's only two more games until another real national television audience watches the Utes in a bowl game. After that, the mtn. is officially irrelevant to Utah.