The future is now for the Mountain West. Meaning, the conference’s TV contract expires next year, and negotiations for a new one are getting underway this week. Mark Ziegler of the San Diego Union-Tribune laid it out pretty well in an analysis of the crossroads the league faces. Each Mountain West school currently receives just $1.1 million per year, pocket change in today’s world when you consider that number is $43 mill in the SEC. (Boise State gets an additional $1.8 million for its home games, a deal worked out when the Broncos nixed a move to the Big East seven years ago.) Now, the conference appears to be prepared to gamble that the future of college sports on TV is moving away from traditional TV and cable networks and on to streaming. And that could also give fans a chunk of their lives back.
“How important is linear?” said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson in Ziegler’s story. “We have to balance 8:30 or 9 p.m. kickoffs or tip-offs with a few extra bucks versus a digital paywall. Everybody has their opinion. There’s going to have to be some hard decisions.” My opinion is that a digital paywall won’t work for the Mountain West. Not enough people will pay. It’s easy for fans to watch when it’s part of their monthly TV package. And the Mountain West picks up a lot of people surfing channels (especially if they see that the turf is blue). But Thompson had a magic number in there: 8:30 p.m. kickoffs. Maybe the Mountain West completely cuts the cord and goes with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or whatever other shiny new object comes down the pike in order to bring back fan-friendly start times.
The AAC just struck a deal with ESPN that will pay each member school $7 million per year beginning in 2020. Wow, right? Well, most of the games will be streamed on ESPN+, schools are responsible for on-campus production costs, and the contract lasts 13 years. Who knows what the media landscape will look like in 2033? For Boise State it’s a quandary. The Broncos’ brand was developed on old-fashioned national TV broadcasts. So was its coast-to-coast recruiting footprint. But a price has been paid through the network programming grids, where Boise State is constantly slotted into late-night blocks. Winning fans back is important.
STOP THE BOWL MADNESS
The other prominent topic of the day is the creation of a new bowl game in 2020 at Fenway Park in Boston, reported Tuesday by Stadium’s Brett McMurphy. The yet-to-be-named contest will pit the ACC against the American. But the big picture is this: with two other new bowls on tap for Los Angeles an Myrtle Beach, SC, there will be a staggering 43 bowl games next year. That means almost two-thirds of the 130 FBS schools will make the postseason. There’ll be a lot of 5-7 teams, and that’s stomach-turning. We need bowl contraction, not expansion. It won’t happen, but teams without winning records in the regular season should not be in bowl games. Remember 2001, the last time Boise State was left out? The Broncos were 8-4 that year. In fact, I like 8-4 as the benchmark.
BULLDOGS GO WITH UNTESTED SENIOR
Boise State and Fresno State aren’t scheduled to play again until 2021, but after the Broncos and Bulldogs faced each other four times the past two years, we’re still interested in what’s going on in the San Joaquin Valley, right? Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford is not going to wait until fall camp to name a starting quarterback to replace Marcus McMaryion. Tedford’s going with senior Jorge Reyna, a backup the past two seasons. Reyna’s been in the system, but this is a bold step for a guy who threw 12 passes and had nine rushing attempts for the Mountain West champions last season. McMaryion, by the way, went undrafted last weekend and was picked up as a UDFA by the Oakland Raiders.
WHAT AN AGONIZING WAY TO GO
The Idaho Steelheads now have to dig out of the ultimate hole in playoff hockey. Tulsa’s Stephen Perfetto scored midway through the second period in Game 3 of the ECHL Mountain Division finals last night in CenturyLink Arena. It was the only goal of the game, with the Oilers’ 1-0 victory giving them a three games-to-none lead in the series. The wrenching loss spoiled a stellar effort by Steelheads goalie Tomas Sholl, who stopped all 26 shots he faced outside of Perfetto’s. Tulsa’s Devin Williams outdid Sholl with a 36-save shutout. Idaho is on the ropes as Game 4 awaits tonight. Game 5 is Friday night in Boise, with “if necessary” now in capital letters.
CUP-OF-COFFEE REMNANTS OF THE STAMPEDE
It’s been three years since the Idaho Stampede played their last game in Downtown Boise, and the team is off the radar for good. But there are still some tie-ins we can dredge up—and these are a couple of good ones in the NBA Playoffs. Portland mainstay C.J. McCollum was sent down to the Stampede by Portland for a week during the 2013-14 season. McCollum played 41 minutes in two games and scored 37 points. Those were the only two games he ever played in what is now the G-League. The season before, Portland assigned Will Barton to the Stamps for four games. He averaged 16.8 points per game during that stint. Now Barton is a Denver Nugget, and he and McCollum are battling in the NBA Western Conference semifinals. Leave it to the Scott Slant to come up with that.
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May 1, 1991: Oakland’s Rickey Henderson breaks Lou Brock’s career record for stolen bases, swiping his 939th in a game against the Yankees. Henderson wasn’t quite halfway through a 25-year big league career spread among nine different teams. He ended up with 1,406 stolen bases and also holds the all-time big league marks for runs, leadoff home runs and unintentional walks. Henderson, incidentally, started his pro career as a 17-year-old with the Boise A’s in 1976.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)