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Conference Expansion: Utah Saves Itself, MWC TV Deal Will Kill the Rest

Ryan TeeplesCorrespondent IJune 17, 2010

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 14:  Quarterback Jordan Wynn #3 of the Utah Utes looks to pass the ball in the second quarter of the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It was only a few days ago (when it appeared the Pac-10 was going to land big-fish Texas and its entourage) that I wrote that the top teams in the Mountain West , namely BYU, Utah, TCU, and Boise State should flee their conference, its parasitic bottom-half, and its monumentally bad TV deal. 

Well, it turns out Texas was just a big tease, and the Pac-10 instead added the University of Utah to its exclusive west-coast club.

Utah made perfect sense to the Pac-10, as it's a top-tier research school, brings a new top-30 TV market to the conference, has shown success in its major athletic programs, and most importantly, isn't a private religious school. 

Unfortunately, this leaves BYU, TCU, and Boise State (maybe Air Force) as good programs still mired in a poor conference with poor conference leadership.

The top of the MWC is financially supporting the bottom

Those three or four schools are literally subsidizing the remaining Mountain West Conference programs, as the TV and bowl dollars are split evenly among the teams, despite the fact that most of the conference (Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado State, specifically) offer very little value where it really counts: Football on TV. 

I relent that SDSU brings a TV market, and UNLV a bowl tie-in. But if pressed, any TV exec will tell you those five schools not named BYU, TCU, and Air Force are way low on the value chain.

In addition to that, the atrocity of the Mountain West's TV deal is even more pronounced now that Utah is bolting (rightfully so) to the sunshine of the Pac-10.

Utah's move puts the MWC TV deal in devastating perspective

Salt Lake City radio personality David Locke pointed out Wednesday that there are five years left on the MWC's current TV deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year. In that same five year period, it is estimated the Pac-10 schools will be paid between $10 million and $20 million EACH per year. 

So in the time frame that BYU (a school with a national audience and national respect in football and basketball) will be paid $5 million, its chief rival, Utah, will net as much as $100 million! It's as horrifying as it is telling. 

BYU, Utah, and TCU have survived on tradition and nuances that make them able to succeed despite the anonymity and poverty the MTC TV deal hamstrings them with.

Boise State has thrived in the midst of a monetarily challenged conference by getting tons of exposure playing on ESPN nearly weekly, albeit in weekday time-slots. But how long can that really continue?

TCU, BYU and BSU won't stay competitive as a result

The TV deal and subsequent lack of exposure has obviously devastated Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV, and Wyoming. Without built-in recruiting bases, longstanding tradition or exemplary facilities, why would top talent choose those schools knowing they won’t ever play games on TV channels anyone watches or can get?

Those school’s recent football performance shows they won’t.

It’s a vicious circle though. Unfortunately for the rest of the conference, schools like Wyoming, Colorado State, and New Mexico aren’t helping the conference’s value to TV networks because they offer small markets, small fanbases and poor programs.

So the top of the conference ends up financially supporting the bottom—college football welfare at its finest. That may be working for Vanderbilt, Baylor, and Washington State, but the Mountain West and its marquee programs simply don’t have the clout and TV markets at the top to carry on that way and be competitive.

And the chances of a better deal are slim to none. There are five long years left on this current titanic of a contract.

It’s this simple

The University of Utah is about to get much, much richer and much more exposure. At the same time, BYU, TCU and now Boise State may just drown in a sea of conference poverty and TV anonymity. And Wyoming and the other conference bottom-dwellers will be holding onto their legs.

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