Kragthorpe: DirecTV deal to boost league's image
The Mountain West Conference's satellite TV deal may be longawaited, welcome news, but it will not immediately improve any football team's national ranking or increase the league's chances of landing in the Bowl Championship Series.
Regardless of when, how and where games are televised, this league and its teams still face one major obstacle to national recognition. It is all about winning high-profile nonconference games - which, ironically enough, are pretty much the ones already available nationally. What happens on the field in 2008 is still the most important factor in the growth of the MWC's profile. Yet there's also no question that as the league prepares to launch its 10th year of competition in August, the agreement confirmed Thursday with DirecTV for broadcasts of The Mtn. is a huge breakthrough in terms of credibility.
Or a reduction of embarrassment, whichever way you choose to view it.
While the lack of access to televised MWC games (available only via cable) has been an issue for many fans of Brigham Young and Utah, the perception it created of a backwoods, insignificant conference was really the bigger problem. The league's image will get a boost now, when the only trouble becomes what the league's followers will find to whine about next.
The best part of this whole thing is that after two years of complaints about the TV dilemma, it's mostly solved now. That means no more pleas for fans to incessantly call and "demand" that satellite providers offer The Mtn., which I seriously doubt had any effect.
It has to be said: Sports fans are spoiled in this century. Once it became more difficult and more expensive to watch local teams play, we've acted as if these games have been televised forever - and for free. That's just not true. And for those along the Wasatch Front who wished they could have watched Wednesday's BYU-Utah basketball game, well, there were 3,000 seats for the taking in the Marriott Center.
There also was a lot of revised history about the supposedly wonderful days of the MWC's contract with ESPN, disregarding the major inconveniences of 10 p.m. tipoffs for basketball and varied kickoff times for football that were usually not determined until 12 days before the games.
So now, with DirecTV's 15 million-plus subscribers - including a big chunk of Utah viewers - coming aboard, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson suddenly looks a lot less silly for inventing The Mtn. in the first place. Questions remain about where The Mtn. will fit into the satellite company's packaging, but if it's placed in the same category as the Big Ten Network, it would be accessible and reasonably priced.
Locally, that's nice. Nationally? I'm not convinced the MWC will ever warrant widespread interest - except in the case of BYU's built-in following. The deal does, however, remove one negative factor that coaches in other conferences could cite against MWC schools in recruiting.
So it is a positive thing, for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with what happens on the football field in September, when the MWC's credibility will be risked as Utah visits Michigan, BYU travels to Washington and UCLA comes to BYU. Those games will have a lot to say about whether anybody in this league qualifies for a BCS game for the first time in four years. The funny thing about those matchups, in the context of this news? BYU-UCLA is the only one that could be carried via The Mtn. anyway. So the much-anticipated agreement will not change the basic truth of college football for the Utes, Cougars and everybody else at their level: Win, and they will always find out about you. Otherwise, they will never care, regardless of what your TV deal looks like.