BYU: Lack of TV keeps Cougars unknown

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PROVO - The get-out-the-vote campaign started last week for the Brigham Young football team.

The school's sports information department began sending e-mails to national media members touting the team's credentials.

It noted BYU's season win streak (five), conference win streak (12) and other statistical highlights.

Normally, a televised weeknight game like Thursday's against TCU would help bolster the cause for attention. But ever since the Mountain West Conference cut ties with ESPN, the benefits of non-Saturday games haven't carried as much weight.

The BYU-TCU game will be televised on Versus, which reaches 72 million households. The other two networks with MWC ties are CSTV (65 million) and the mtn. (1.2 million).

ESPN reaches 94 million households and ESPN2 reaches more than 93 million.

Although the numerical difference between Versus and ESPN doesn't seem like much, their distance in the sports landscape is like night and day to many viewers.

"ESPN and Versus are in different stratospheres in terms of recognition. ESPN sort of rules the landscape," said New York Times college football writer Pete Thamel. "Being on Versus hurts the Mountain West like it hurts the NHL. It's not in the sports' fans normal repertoire of flipping through channels or on TV sets in sports bars."

Teams from non-Bowl Championship Series conferences already face an uphill climb to gain mainstream attention and break into the rankings.

Many programs consider weeknight games on ESPN to be like Monday Night Football games in the NFL - it's their chance to shine in the national spotlight without competition. The added exposure can help also help avoid becoming "out of sight, out of mind" in a crowded field of candidates.

After last Saturday's victory over Colorado State, BYU (6-2, 4-0) gained 22 votes in the "others receiving votes" category of the Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Cougars (44 votes) trail Florida State (89) and Cincinnati (68) as teams on the cusp of a ranking.

Seven teams ranked in the AP poll have two losses and five teams have three. All reside in BCS conferences. Western Athletic Conference members Hawaii (8-0) and Boise State (8-1) are the only ranked non-BCS teams, at Nos. 13 and 19, respectively.

Boise State plays five games on ESPN or ESPN2 this season while Hawaii plays four games on the networks.

Although voters don't base their ballots on ESPN appearances, the ability to watch a team play can make more of an impression than just viewing a box score.

Sports Illustrated college football writer Stewart Mandel believes the Mountain West's TV deal, "has has hurt them tremendously" in the national landscape.

"They were doing just fine for exposure a couple of years ago. When Utah went undefeated, it seemed like they were on ESPN every week," Mandel said. "Now it's as if the league has vanished off the face of the Earth. The WAC, which used to be considered inferior to the MWC, gets far more exposure from Boise State and Hawaii's appearances."

And the exposure impacts more than just rankings. Potential recruits are often watching ESPN games.

Before Georgia Tech appeared on the network last Thursday, senior fullback Mike Cox told the Atlanta Journal Constitution he was attracted to the Yellow Jackets after seeing them play against BYU on a Thursday night on ESPN2 four years ago.

But San Francisco Chronicle writer Ray Ratto says it's not the television package that's hurting the Mountain West this season. It's the absence of an undefeated team.

"The Mountain West has had the same visibility problems forever, but it isn't impossible for them to be seen," said Ratto, who has BYU ranked No. 22 in his poll. "There are just a lot of two-loss teams in the country, and when that's the case, teams in smaller population areas get overlooked."

Austin Collie realizes BYU's two early losses took it off many radar screens. But the sophomore wide receiver hopes a strong finish like last season will recapture some attention.

"It is kind of frustrating to know that not a lot of people are watching our games on TV," Collie said. "I feel that we are one of the best teams in the nation and I feel we don't get the respect for it. But we are just going to keep on going out there and proving week in and week out that we are."

The Mountain West Conference has a contract with CSTV and Comcast. Conference home games are only allowed to be televised by one of the conference's three television partners - the mtn., CSTV or Versus - unless the networks choose to give the rights to a local, regional or national outlet.


72 million households CSTV

65 million households the mtn.

1.2 million households ESPN

94 million households ESPN2

93 million households

The BYU-TCU game will be televised on Versus, which reaches 72 million households. The other two networks with MWC ties are CSTV (65 million) and the mtn. (1.2 million).

ESPN reaches 94 million households and ESPN2 reaches more than 93 million.

Thursday's game

BYU vs. TCU, 7 p.m., Versus