WAC needs to stand up to TV

The Western Athletic Conference released its TV football schedule Thursday, and it's another great example of ESPN flexing its muscle and getting away with it.

Nevada will be shown on ESPN or ESPN2 three different times this season, and two of the dates/times leave me scratching my head.

The first is a SUNDAY night game at Boise State on Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. on ESPN. The second is a Nov. 16, a Friday night, 8 p.m. match-up against Hawai'i at Mackay Stadium which will be seen on ESPN2.

Let's talk about the Hawai'i game first. Can you imagine what the weather will be like on Nov. 16 between 8 and 11:30 p.m.?

Heck, with the way the way Hawai'i throws the ball, that could be more than a 3 1/2-hour game.

Trust me on this, I already feel sorry for the fans who will be sitting outside. I've sat in Mackay Stadium during the day for November games, and that wind can be brutal. Imagine what it will be like when the sun goes down?

If the game is that big of a deal, why couldn't ESPN2 show it at 5 or 6 p.m. so people on the East Coast can see it? After all, that's where the WAC needs the exposure. That's where a lot of poll voters are. Teams like Boise State, Nevada, Hawai'i and Fresno State are well known on the West Coast. It's the other parts of the country that need to see that the WAC plays some pretty good football, and making them stay up past midnight to watch a game isn't the way to do it.

"It's not ideal," admitted Nevada athletic director Cary Groth Friday morning. "It's not the best time or day, but we'll make the best of it. We're already talking about things we can do. We're looking at things optimistically."

Groth said that the athletic department officials are already discussing some marketing strategy, knowing full well it could be miserable weather. She mentioned that giving out free mittens has been discussed.

How about free coffee and hot chocolate? Certainly there must be some local store willing to pony up money for that. Fans aren't allowed to bring a thermos into Mackay Stadium, and paying $2 or more for about eight ounces of coffee or hot chocolate is a rip-off.

Groth said the school receives $100,000 from ESPN for moving the game, and those expenses are supposed to defray the cost of selling less tickets.

The WAC is so starved for exposure that it almost always change dates around to accommodate television, but in this case I don't think it's the right thing to do. To me, this change is unfair for the fans, because now Nevada will be competing with high school playoff games for attendance, and if the weather is bad, how many ticketholders will actually be in attendance?

There's nothing worse than watching a game on TV and seeing a half-empty stadium.

Call me a purist, but I believe college football is a Saturday game, but admittedly I have less of a problem with a Friday compared to a Thursday or Sunday.

That leads me to my second complaint. What got into ESPN's head when it decided to schedule not one, but two Sunday night games? Is it absolutely nuts?

Not only will ESPN be trying to go up against the NFL, but it also will be going up against playoffs in Major League Baseball. How can a Boise State-Nevada football game at 5 p.m. compete with professional sports, especially football? I just don't see it, and how much viewership does ESPN expect to get?

In this case, Boise got $1,000 for agreeing to play on Sunday, but again I think this is a case of a conference and its membership caving in.

All told, a total of 10 games are being televised this year by ESPN this season, two on Sunday, one on Thursday, five on Friday and just two on Saturday.

In my opinion, and I've been wrong a few times, I think the WAC is doing whatever is needed for more exposure. Not because it is that happy with the football time slots that were doled out, but because of what happened last year when the WAC refused to move a San Jose State game. ESPN then retaliated and took the WAC off any Monday night basketball games which meant much less basketball exposure for the WAC, which is already one of the most underexposed conferences in the country.

Quite frankly, I'm tired of networks like ESPN flexing their muscles. The fact that only two of the 10 broadcasts are on Saturday tells me that ESPN doesn't think enough of the WAC, and that's dead wrong.

Look at what the WAC did in bowl games last year. San Jose State won, Boise State won, Hawai'i won and Nevada lost by a point to Miami, a Big East powerhouse.

The WAC has made strides in recent years, and the TV networks need to stop treating the conference like a second-class citizen.

Whether that happens or not, time will tell.


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