Craig Thompson wants you to be able to watch Air Force football from your phone. Check the San Diego State score while eating your corn flakes. Watch highlights of TCU while on the, uh, commode.
|The MWC commish wants Air Force football available on TV, DSL, satellite, phone and Internet. (Getty Images)|
"I think we can be a guinea pig," the Mountain West commissioner said. "This could be a model that others follow."
A year ago the league became the first of its kind to leave ESPN, mostly because conference presidents were tired of playing football on weeknights. It partnered with CSTV (like SportsLine.com, owned by parent company CBS) in 2004 to form a regional network. The Mountain West signed a seven-year, $82 million deal with CSTV that began in 2005.
The concept has worked in other sports for 20 years. The Yankees, Braves, Cubs, Red Sox and Indians all have their own networks in baseball. But in college sports, leaving the Mother Ship is seen in the industry as suicide.
Maybe, except that now the Big Ten is headed in that direction, too. SportsLine.com has learned that the nation's biggest conference (in terms of demographic reach) is close to announcing a long-term agreement with ESPN that would include a side deal with DirecTV to broadcast the Big Ten Network.
The league has been silent, but the formation of its own network has been the talk of the industry. The Big Ten is the next major conference whose television deal expires (June 2007). What it does with its content to maximize profits might be a template for other major conferences.
Dropping production costs and the success of other "networks" has led the league to this point.
While ESPN will still get top games, the Big Ten Network most likely will broadcast second-tier football and basketball games as well as minor sports.
"It does make sense. ... The Big Ten will sell very well in Chicago, in Detroit, in Cleveland, in Pittsburgh, in Milwaukee, the footprint of the Big Ten," said a high-placed industry source. "They will have a viewing audience. ... You're going to see more of this moving forward."
Why is the Big Ten forcing its consumers to the more-expensive satellite TV? Basically, because it can. The league has one of the most loyal -- and well-heeled -- fan bases.
But while the Big Ten is betting on fans, Thompson is betting on fans' habits. With the help of CSTV, he wants the Mountain West to spread across all platforms -- cable, DSL, Internet, satellite, wireless and phone.
The 50-year-old commissioner bases this on intense research -- watching his 16-year-old-son Ted.
"Now, young people go online before they go to TV," Thompson said. "They go right to the computer, start instant messaging, forwarding video clips, listening to music. My son has TV on as background noise.
"I don't think I have looked at an entire game with him in years."
New media is moving in to satisfy the Short Attention Span generation. Internet, satellite and broadband advertising rates are growing. Someday those rates might be lucrative enough to support an MWC regional network.
Thompson has an ally of sorts in Myles Brand. The NCAA's March Madness On Demand webcasting of games flourished this year. In an interview before the tournament, the NCAA president was asked if he foresaw overall sports rights fees flattening.
"If you asked me last year the answer would have been 'Oh sure,'" Brand told SportsLine.com. "I've changed my mind on that because the new media is growing so quickly and in directions that frankly were unpredictable a year or two ago."
Other entities are stretching out across multiple platforms -- SportsLine.com among them. There is more at stake for the Mountain West, which is stepping outside the protective cocoon of ESPN and growing together with CSTV.
When asked if he could see a major conference leaving ESPN, Thompson said, "Sure I can. "That whole 14-hour block (of college football on Saturdays), there's just a lot out there. Everybody wants to play football on Saturday afternoons."
The MountainWest Network will have a bit of added juice. The conference is largely thought to be the next-best league after the power conferences. With the change in BCS rules, there will be added intrigue to see if a Mountain West team can duplicate Utah's feat in 2004.
The Mountain West is in the process of putting at least one camera in most every varsity sports venue. That could mean you might be able watch only one angle of a softball game on your phone, but at least you're able to watch it.
"We can be on the cutting edge," Thompson said. "What we're doing today may not surface in three years, but that's the pioneer spirit. That's the West. We know we have to be different. This could be the model that others follow."
There is no doubt satellite TV is a player. In a roundabout way, the Big Ten's DirecTV deal might eventually provide Fox with the regular-season package it needs to go with its four BCS bowl games. News Corp. (Fox's parent company) spent $6.6 billion in 2003 for a stake in Hughes Electronics, the parent company of DirecTV.
Like the Big Ten, the Mountain West is betting on that growing influence of satellite TV. DirecTV alone has 25 million subscribers. Thompson would like to see an audience of 75 million once CSTV is wired into more cable and satellite systems.
"I look at sports programming as politics," he said. "You only are about your hometown team.
"What we're looking at now is a new way to do business. How can we be different? That's our tag line."
World's Largest Outdoor O'Doul's Party?
The SEC has politely asked its TV partners not to use the phrase "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" to describe the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
As you can see, the memo didn't reach this space.
Nor should the networks bow to this latest volley of political correctness. It's not the decades-old label that killed students each of the last two years. Three men face second-degree murder charges for the beating death of Florida student Thomas Oliver Brown last year. Robert Ferguson, another Florida student, died after an apparent fall from a parking garage in 2004. Both died during the Florida-Georgia weekend.
Both incidents apparently involved alcohol.
While eliminating a label might be a noble step, there's a simple -- and more meaningful -- way to address the issue. Ban the use of alcohol in and around the parking lots surrounding Alltel Stadium.
Fans will just party elsewhere? Sure, but that sends the message that the city of Jacksonville, the schools and the SEC are serious about alcohol abuse.
There's a big reason the cocktail party is just that. It's outdoors, it's large, there are cocktails and partying. It has been called the No. 1 tailgate in college football.
Clamping down on the heart of where the game got its name is the most meaningful step.
- There is absolutely no problem with Jim Tressel now earning $2.4 million per year. Tressel and Bob Stoops set this decade's standard when they each won a national championship in their second season. Tres is 4-1 in bowl games and 4-1 against Michigan. What more do you want, Maurice Clarett expunged from the record books?
- The nation's leading returning and career rusher didn't get a carry his first two years on campus. Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe goes into the season with 3,236 yards. Most of his 1,580 yards last season came after his shoulder popped out of joint in the season opener against Michigan. The shoulder kept popping in and out, but it was a knee injury that knocked him out of three games.
- USC might have its go-to tailback. Junior Chauncey Washington told a newspaper he will be eligible this season. While no one can replace Reggie Bush, Washington might be the next-best option. It might take carbon dating to prove it. Washington was been academically ineligible since the beginning of the 2004 season. He has only 19 career carries.