Scott D. Pierce: Get ready, USU fans — MWC's TV future still cloudy
MWC, their new league, still trying to nail down deals; local rights will be up for grabs in 2013.
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With Utah State set to join the Mountain West Conference in 2013, the Aggies' future looks secure. And, arguably, brighter than it has for decades.

The league's TV future, however, remains unsettled. It's a brave new world for the Mountain West. Or, perhaps, back to the future.

There are three givens Aggie fans need to keep in mind:

• First, USU isn't going to get rich by joining the MWC. No network will pay a premium for Utah State, Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Jose State, UNLV and Wyoming. It's not worth debating. Won't happen.

That's also true for any local deals USU might sign. Like it or not, the Aggies don't have the same TV pull in their home state as Utah or BYU.

• Second, with The Mtn. signing off for good at the end of the month, no longer will all the local TV rights be sucked up by the league.

It will be like the days when, if BYU and Utah weren't on ESPN, they were on Channel 5 or Channel 14, respectively.

• Third, the goal for the league and for USU has to be exposure. Any money they get will just be gravy.

The Mountain West went the other way in 2006. It got more money (limited as it was), its own channel and all but disappeared from national TV.

The league is scrambling. And, at the moment, is making the best of a tough situation.

The recent announcement that 25 MWC football games will air on national TV outlets this fall is sort of mixed news. (Two games — Boise State at Michigan State and Air Force at Army — have nothing to do with the Mountain West deal.)

CBS Sports Network holds rights to MWC football this fall, and will air eight games itself. Ten have been sub-licensed to the NBC Sports Network; four to ESPN/ABC; and Navy at Air Force will air on the CBS broadcast network.

Look a little closer, however, and you'll see that 10 of the national telecasts feature Boise State and five feature San Diego State. The list includes BSU versus SDSU, but that still means that 56 percent of the MWC national schedule is populated by teams that are leaving before USU arrives in 2013.

Commissioner Craig Thompson called this the "first phase" of TV coverage for the upcoming season. "We are working with CBS Sports Network and member institutions to map out regional and local plans for the remaining 2012 football inventory."

Not a great position to be in 16 weeks before the season kicks off.

This is less of a problem if you're USU and you don't join the league until 2013. And the Aggies may have options.

Not surprisingly, nobody wants to talk about 2013 rights publicly. But local TV execs indicate an MWC schedule is more attractive than a WAC schedule — although BYU and/or Utah playing in Logan would be more attractive still. If those games aren't picked up by national outlets.

There are more options out there than there were in 2005, like local digital channels or Southern Utah-based stations. (KCSG in St. George carried a number of Aggies games recently.)

And there's talk that Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico and Wyoming might join forces for local and regional telecasts, which USU might want to think about.

None of this is meant to rain on the Aggies' parade. Joining the Mountain West should be great for USU.

And with any luck, it will mean more USU games on TV.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at sltrib.com/blogs/tv.