The much-anticipated SEC Network is launching tonight. The thought of a 24/7 network dedicated to one college sports conference seemed live a crazy idea 10 years ago. Now in this new era of TV big wigs looking to feed hungry fans content around the clock, you’re not a successful conference if you don’t have your own network these days.
The Mountain West Conference was always an underrated darling to ESPN. Primarily due to the connection with BYU, the MWC gave ESPN quality television on Thursday nights in football, and 10 p.m. tip-offs in men’s hoops. It was good television in a part of the country that ESPN had very little footprint in. If you remember, the Pac-10’s primary network in the 90’s was Fox Sports Net. Along with FSN, the Pac-10 would also have an occasional ABC regional game announced by Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts –you don’t get announcer tandems like that anymore-.
Needless to say, it was a rare day when the Pac-10 was on ESPN. The Mountain West was a nice alternative to get ESPN western timeslots.
In 2005, the MWC became the first college sports conference to announce a 24/7 network dedicated to just their league. The network was going to be called, “The mtn.”
With this new partnership, the Mountain West had no contract with ESPN.
10 years ago, nobody knew what a TV contract was. Nobody knew how much “TV money” a school was bringing in on an annual basis. College football simply wasn’t as big as it is today. Nobody realized how important being on ESPN was. With all that said, when first hearing about this new MWC network I thought, nice! A 24/7 network dedicated to all things MWC and BYU? I’ll be watching around the clock! Little did I know the league just gave them a death sentence, but I learned very quick.
The more you learned about this new network, the more we realized how bad this was going to be for BYU. It was going to be fantastic for a program like Wyoming who hasn’t been on television in years, but for BYU it was going to be a tough pill to swallow. From eight ESPN games during the 2001 season to zero over three seasons? BYU had great years during that time and nobody knew it existed.
The mtn. launched on September 1, 2006. Unlike tonight’s SEC Network, The MountainWest Sports Network didn’t launch with a national audience. If you didn’t have Comcast, you didn’t have the mtn. It was as simple as that. But not all Comcast subscribers were getting the mtn. The only subscribers that had the mtn in their package were Comcast customers in the Mountain West footprint. MWC Commissioner, Craig Thompson, once joked he didn’t have the mtn., in his own home because he was a DirecTV. For lack of a better term, the mtn’s launch was pathetic.
Instead of being patient and getting all of their ducks in a row, Craig Thompson wanted this network to launch as soon as possible. The audience wasn’t there and the production was awful. Oh that terrible mtn. picture. Set television picture back 10 years at least. In the era where high definition television was starting to launch everywhere, the mtn. had no plans for HD. The network didn’t pick up HD until the 2008 season, and it was very limited. Only football broadcasts and the MWC Basketball tournament were aired in high definition. Studio analysis, weekly programming, was still in awful 4:3 SD. We never had the joy of seeing Marty Fletcher drop his insight on a nightly basis in glowing high definition. I’m still a resident of treyville!
Sometimes I think the mtn, could have made up for their terrible production with programming people actually wanted to watch. When national signing day took place the mtn was talking about swimming & diving. During spring football, maybe go do a team-by-team preview and actually leave the Littleton, Colorado studio for once instead of airing the latest track & field contest. They never had a grasp of what the people (mainly BYU fans) wanted to watch.
I did enjoy some of the on-air talent that was on the mtn. James Bates should probably be considered BYU’s good luck charm. When Bates called a BYU game, it was practically a lock that the Cougars were going to win. Bates might need to be forced into the booth when BYU takes on rival Utah in 2016. Whenever Bates was in the booth for a BYU-Utah tilt, it ended with some classic calls.
“Can anybody get open for him? He rolls right, FINDS HIS GUY!” “Hall launches it he’s got Collie waiting on him!” Bates and the late Todd Christensen were always a joy to listen to.
Tim Neverett was another underrated play-by-play guy that came through the mtn. The studio talent was pretty much forgettable with Marius Payton and Bill Doleman, but I still watched. I succumbed a time or two to the studio guys, but I never caved to It’s a Numbers Game. I remember nothing about that show, other than how ridiculous the host was in the cheesy commercials that aired time and time again, likely after the Big O Tire and St. George ads. You knew it was a horrible network when your top sponsor is St. George, Utah. You’re in trouble.
The trouble for BYU was starting to amplify in 2007. If you remember, BYU still had a mathematical chance at being an at-large team in the Bowl Championship Series entering the final week of the season with a 9-2 record. The postponed season-finale at San Diego State was BYU’s last chance to give the nation a chance at seeing this nationally ranked BYU team. The MWC wouldn’t accommodate BYU, and that moment in December of 2007 started a movement for BYU to start exploring their options in terms of television contracts and conference-affiliation. Imagine if the Mountain West had let BYU Broadcasting air the 2007 San Diego State game in San Diego? Is BYU an independent today?
Let us all enjoy the SEC Network tonight and celebrate the fact that BYU sports will never be exposed to a network like the mtn ever again. Well, unless the Cougars have to play a game on the Pac-12 Network.