June 02, 2007
The mtn Debacle Takes a New Turn
Posted by Gordon Smith

Last fall I wrote about The mtn -- a new sports network formed by the Mountain West Conference. The idea of having a conference sports network is a good one that seems to be catching on. (See the Big Ten Network, which will launch this fall.) So I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the MWC, but their execution has not matched their vision.

Actually, what little programming I have seen from the network is pretty good. The problem lies in accessing that programming. The mtn is partly owned by Comcast, a cable operator, and not surprisingly, it has been unable to close a deal with either of the major satellite television providers. As I noted last fall, that has MWC sports fans hopping mad. And when sports fans are angry, university presidents hear about it. For several months, the word on the street has been that certain MWC university presidents are feeling aggrieved and are agitating for action by the league. Now this:

Brigham Young University and the University of Utah may be rivals on the athletic field, but the two schools do agree on one thing: The Mountain West Conference's television contract with CSTV isn't what they were promised.

To that end, BYU and Utah have retained a sports broadcasting attorney to explore all possible options in improving the distribution of athletic broadcasts.

Kelly Crabb is a partner in the Los Angeles office of the international law firm Morrison & Foerster and a BYU and Columbia Law School graduate. He has represented the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee in connection with the negotiation of 2008 Olympic broadcasting agreements worldwide, as well as other Olympic and major sports leagues and personalities.

It's Crabb's job to find BYU and Utah other options to distribute the television broadcasts of their athletic events.

As a BYU fan, I find this entire story quite irresistible, but the most interesting aspect of this latest move is that BYU and Utah have struck out on their own. Why didn't the MWC hire an attorney? Some fans are suggesting that this is a vote of no confidence for embattled MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson. Others are suggesting that it reveals a deeper rift between BYU and Utah, on the one hand, and other members of the conference, on the other. BYU is insisting that it has only one goal -- get the satellite deals done! The MWC declined to comment.

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