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TV Deal To Air MWC Is Still in Limbo

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Mountain West, C-USA alliance talks complicate contract negotiations

The New Mexico Lobos kick off their 2012 football season in just a little more than four months. That’s plenty of time for planning tailgate parties, or maybe even for installing new artificial turf.

Timeline
• Oct. 14: The Mountain West Conference and Conference USA announce a football-only alliance to begin in 2013. The two leagues were to play as separate divisions, producing a championship game in hopes of getting an automatic spot in the BCS football series.

• Jan. 15: School presidents from both leagues meet to discuss the possibility of some type of alliance for more than just football, in an attempt to be proactive after a number of schools from both conferences announce they are leaving. The MWC had already lost charter members Utah and BYU. TCU leaves after the 2011-12 school year, and San Diego State and Boise State are leaving after the 2012-13 season. C-USA is losing four schools to the Big East Conference.

• Feb. 13: The Mountain West and C-USA jointly announce they will both disband and form a new “super-conference” beginning in the fall 2013. The school presidents signed a letter of intent for the new conference, with details to be worked out in the coming few months.

• April 5: The Mtn. TV network, which was devoted to covering the MWC and airing many of the league’s games in a variety of sports, announces it will go off the air May 31.

• Last week: Some school presidents from both leagues, including UNM’s David Schmidly, say the discussions of a coalition are ongoing, and there are still a number of scenarios possible. The MWC’s TV football schedule, which is typically announced by April 1, is still up in the air for this season.
— Mark Smith

But it’s already exceeded the typical time for announcing the team’s televised games.

Still, UNM athletic director Paul Krebs says it’s too early for fans to panic about whether they will get to watch their team on the tube this season.

“It’s reasonable to wonder,” Krebs told the Journal on Friday. “I think that’s logical, but we don’t really know. People will have to wait until they see the eventual (TV) package.

“There are still a lot of irons in the fire, and some of them are good as far as we’re concerned in getting more inventory (games) on the air locally. We hope it’s all clear in the next three weeks.”

The TV contract holdups are because of the ongoing conversations among Mountain West Conference and Conference USA presidents about the future of the two leagues. Krebs says the conversations discuss getting both a long-term TV contract, beginning in the fall 2013, and one for the 2012-13 school year.

“This year, we’re working on a kind of a one-year, stopgap TV package,” he said.

Krebs said he can’t yet go into detail, but the discussions center on getting as many UNM football games as possible on the air this year.

In February, the two leagues announced they would dissolve after the 2012-13 school year and form a new league with new TV deals beginning in the fall of 2013.

What exactly that means, however, is still unclear. This past week, UNM President David Schmidly said discussions among the school presidents in both leagues will lead to one of three scenarios:

♦ Dissolving and forming one conference.

⋄  A merger — closing down one conference and moving it under the shell of the other.

⋄  Leaving the two conferences in place and operating them under one umbrella and a common management structure.

Schmidly said the last of the three options is the most probable.

Earlier this week, CBSsports.com reported that the proposed merger was unlikely for the immediate future, but the leagues were “still working together to figure out a way to share television, marketing and scheduling resources.”

Schmidly, during an interview on KKOB Radio, was asked whether a merger was off the table for now. His response: “I wouldn’t say it’s reached that point yet. I would still say a co-alignment of these two conferences is highly likely. I think people may be reaching that conclusion (about the merger being dead), because it’s slowed down from the time frame we originally hoped we would be on. What slowed us down is we have to work through these TV contracts.”

Schmidly said the leagues are working with CBS, Fox and, perhaps, NBC.

“We have some existing contracts, and we have to resolve those,” he said. “We have to resolve the fate of the Mountain West Conference, and we also have to look at new contracts. … We won’t make any decisions on how we’re going to structure this realigned entity until we know what the TV value is.”

Friday, the Journal sought additional comment from Schmidly. University of New Mexico public information officer Karen Wentworth said Schmidly would not do so “at this time.”

The Mtn. pass

During each of the past four seasons, the Mountain West Conference’s TV slate for football had already been determined by this time of the year. But that was before the demise of The Mountain Sports Network, better known as The Mtn., which became a casualty of the plans between the MWC and C-USA.

The Mtn., which goes off the air May 31, showed 30 Mountain West football games last season.

Hayne Ellis, The Mtn.’s director of communications and affiliate relations, said CBS Sports Network and Comcast/NBCUniversal — which co-own the network — decided to shut it down after this school year.

“Because of all the uncertainty, it just didn’t make it viable going forward,” Ellis said.

Multiple sources told the Journal that The Mtn. was losing money.

Ellis wouldn’t comment on that. He did, however, say that the Mountain West TV football schedule is normally ready to announce by this time each year.

“The way it was done in the past, Versus, now NBC Sports Network, would look at the Mountain West composite schedule, as would CSTV — which was then CBS College Sports, now the CBS Sports Network — and pick their games,” Ellis said.

“We actually had the third picks in that selection order. Once they had their game choices set, then we would go and round out our schedule of up to 30 games we would do each year. It all came out on or about April 1.”

The complete league TV schedule was announced April 1 in 2008, March 26 in 2009, March 29 in 2010 and April 7 last year.

In addition to broadcasting the football games, Ellis said The Mtn. also showed 70 men’s basketball games, 22 to 24 women’s basketball games, 10 volleyball games and some soccer, baseball and softball contests. The network also provided other events, the nightly “Mountain Sports” report, other news and talk shows and recaps of some Olympic sports.

“One of the things this network was created to do was bring about more exposure for those student-athletes and those sports that might not always be the ones the cameras were focusing on,” Ellis said. “I don’t know if you’re going to see that anymore.”

Krebs says he understands there could be a void of telecasts with the loss of The Mtn., but there are possible solutions.

“There are a lot of the balls in the air, a lot of things going on, and no decisions have been final,” Krebs said. “This isn’t over yet.

“While The Mtn. is dissolved and it frees up a lot of inventory, there are still a lot of unknowns about what will happen.”

A handful of Lobo men’s basketball games weren’t picked up by one of the MWC’s TV partners last season, but Albuquerque’s KASY aired some of those.

Joe Weiss, general manager of Lobo Sports Properties — a property of Learfield Sports and the multimedia rights holder and sports marketing arm for athletics at the University of New Mexico — said it’s too early to say what backup local TV plans could be.

“No one has all of the facts regarding the conference’s television package,” Weiss said in a statement issued through UNM. “So while we are exploring certain options, we have to wait until the conference’s television package is finalized.”

So, what about the league’s options? Is one to keep The Mtn. afloat through the 2012-13 school year?

“No, no chance,” Ellis says. “We go off the air at 11:59 p.m. on May 31.”

How it began

In late February, Schmidly told the Journal that a coalition between the Mountain West and C-USA came about because of the changing landscape in college sports, with both leagues suffering defections.

“It’s our best move right now,” he said. “And it will at least, I hope, give us some stability.”

Utah and Brigham Young bolted from the MWC after last season. TCU leaves after this school year, and San Diego State and Boise State leave after the 2012-13 school year.

Meanwhile, the conference is adding Nevada and Fresno State in 2012-13 for all sports and Hawaii for football. C-USA will be down to eight members after Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and Southern Methodist leave.

Schmidly said there are a number of problems if the two leagues dissolve and form a new league, including losing a vote with the NCAA, losing a vote in the BCS, possibly losing units (money) from the NCAA Tournament and losing an automatic berth in the tournament.

Every team in the conference receives money for each game one of its members plays in the NCAA Tournament.

Each unit was worth $242,000 to the conference this year. The MWC had five units. Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State were a combined 0-3 in the tournament. UNM was 1-1.

The Mountain West will also get large sums of money from Boise State and San Diego State when those teams leave the conference, which is divided among the membership. But if there is no Mountain West, there is no exit fee for Boise State and SDSU to pay.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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