Quick, name the two Saturday games that have the best chance of affecting the matchup in the BCS title game. You probably got the first one, Texas Tech at Texas, right off the bat. The second one might not be on your mind, because there's a good chance it won't be on your television.
It's Florida State at BYU, and if you're one of DirecTV's 14 million subscribers, you won't be seeing it. Because of a squabble over carriage fees, DirecTV dropped Versus from its lineup Sept. 1. That means the Mountain West, already hurting for exposure because only seven million households get The mtn. network, will lose even more viewers for a marquee game that - depending on what happens around the nation - could help propel one of its teams into the top five.
Without DirectTV's subscribers, the Versus base shrinks to 61.5 million households. By comparison, ESPN reaches 97.8 million, and ESPN2 reaches 97 million. Also, Versus is better known for its NHL and Tour de France coverage, so casual viewers with no rooting interest aren't likely to surf past the Cougars and Seminoles as they flip between games on the ESPN family, which also includes over-the-air goliath ABC. Poll voters also are subject to the whims of their cable companies and subconscious viewing habits, so many of them may also miss a game that could help the Cougars prove they are a legitimate national title contender.
The Mountain West spurned ESPN prior to the 2006 season because the four-letter network planned to give away all those prime Thursday-night telecasts to BCS conferences. So instead of playing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, the Mountain West opted to create its own network in partnership with CSTV, now known as CBS College Sports.
It was a noble thought, but it has been a spectacular failure. Clearly, ESPN is too powerful a foe to challenge. Imagine the buzz Utah might have had entering bowl season last year had people been able to watch the Utes play on a regular basis. College football fans would have tuned to ESPN in droves to watch Utah, BYU and TCU play on odd nights.
Mountain West highlights have all but disappeared off of ESPN, with a few notable exceptions such as this year's BYU-Oklahoma game, which was broadcast on ABC because Oklahoma was considered the home team and the Big 12 has a contract with ESPN/ABC. Meanwhile, the Mountain West, which might be better top-to-bottom than the Big East, lags behind the MAC in exposure. Friday, I asked Toledo coach Tim Beckman how his team's nationally televised whipping of Colorado might play with recruits, and his smile reached clear to Columbus.
The next time the Mountain West makes a television deal, officals should crawl back to ESPN. The current arrangement hurt the Utes last year, and it may wind up hurting the Cougars this year. Because if a team dominates and no one tunes in to see it, did it really dominate at all?