BYU football: DirecTV-Versus brawl dims spotlight for Cougs, 'Noles

Because of a stalemate in negotiations, DirecTV has taken Versus off the air. Now BYU's game with Florida State on Saturday will not be seen by millions of DirecTV subscribers across the country. The MWC has six more games scheduled to air on Versus late
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Quarterback Max Hall's flickering Heisman Trophy hopes could use a big-time boost, and the BYU Cougars could be helped by another big shot of national exposure to add to the momentum they gained with a stunning 14-13 upset of Oklahoma two weeks ago.

And there's no better place and time than a jam-packed LaVell Edwards Stadium on a late Saturday afternoon for the No. 7 Cougars to show the college football world they deserve to be ranked among the nation's elite, especially because they are hosting one of the sport's most successful programs of all-time, Florida State.

Too bad a relatively small number of college football fans are going to be able to watch it.

"It's a shame," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "It's very unfortunate."

Sure, the game will be televised nationally by the sports network Versus.

Problem is, satellite television provider DirecTV pulled Versus (Ch. 603) from its platform on Sept. 1 after the two sides failed to reach a contract agreement, and so millions of college football fans who subscribe to DirecTV will not get the game.

Versus president Jamie Davis said Wednesday that it doesn't look like there will be a resolution any time soon.

"Right now it is not looking like there is a near-term solution -- certainly not before this Saturday's big game, Florida State and BYU," he said.

Darris Gringeri, vice president-public relations for DirecTV, also said it is "very, very doubtful" that an agreement will be reached before Saturday's game.

"We are hopeful" an agreement will be reached eventually, he said. "I believe we are in negotiations. I believe we are talking now, but it is still just us wanting to get a fair deal. And as soon as Comcast [which owns Versus] and Versus come to the table with that, then we will do a deal....We are sorry that Versus' stubbornness is keeping fans from seeing the game this weekend."

Versus' Davis fired back that DirecTV "has clouded the issue regarding what this is all about." The network's president said it is not about price, saying Versus has offered the same price to DirecTV that every other distributor -- such as the DISH Network or cable operators -- is paying, the market rate.

"They wanted to take it away from six million people, and put it on a different [price package] tier, and charge people more money than they were already paying. And that was something that was simply unacceptable," Davis said.

So while the two sides point fingers, call each other names and trade insults (DirecTV, for instance, has called Versus' lineup "mostly paid programming and infomercials"), the real losers are college football fans and, locally, Mountain West Conference football programs such as BYU, TCU and Utah that are crying out for more national exposure and respect.

DirecTV subscribers missed last week's Texas-Wyoming game on Versus, and six more MWC games are scheduled to be televised by the fledgling network this season, including the Oct. 24 Air Force-at-Utah and TCU-at-BYU games. Versus also has the Nov. 21 San Diego State-at-Utah game.

"It is unfortunate with the contract that negotiations couldn't be reached for the benefit of the subscribers, the fans. And it is too bad," Mendenhall said. "The [MWC's TV] contract in general, from beginning to end, has been less than desired."

Versus is available on the DISH Network and on most cable systems.

Mendenhall said he won't say anything to the league office now because he's in the middle of the season and he has a football program to run, but plans on "making my voice heard" at coaches meetings with commissioner Craig Thompson after athletic directors such as BYU's Tom Holmoe get a chance first.

"I just think [the MWC TV contract] has been less than ideal, in terms of exposure," Mendenhall said.

BYU's first two games, against Oklahoma and Tulane, were on ESPN and ESPN2, which reach approximately 97 million homes and are far more entrenched in the viewing patterns of college football fans than Versus.

For his part, BYU's Hall said he feels sorry for fans who can't watch the game, but that it doesn't matter to players. "We don't have any control over TV," he said. "You just want to play the very best you can every Saturday, no matter who is watching."

Or in this case, not able to watch.


Remaining Versus MWC games in 2009

SaturdayFlorida State at BYU 5 p.m.
Oct. 17Colorado State at TCU 3 p.m.
Oct. 24Air Force at Utah 2 p.m.
Oct. 24TCU at BYU 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 31UNLV at TCU 3 p.m.
Nov. 7TCU at San Diego State TBA
Nov. 21San Diego State at Utah TBA