SBD Report: The Mtn. to go dark on May 31; What’s next for UNLV and the Mountain West on TV?

League network launched in 2006 to shut down, but MWC now has major opportunity on its hands

In a bit of expected news, CBS Sports Network and Comcast will be shutting down the cable channel created for Mountain West Conference athletics — The Mtn. — on May 31.

The news was first reported on Thursday by Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand.

According to his report, The Mtn.’s 44 employees were told the news on Thursday afternoon in a meeting at their Denver headquarters. He went on to report that CBS Sports Network and the Mountain West are close to finalizing a deal for the conference’s rights that would increase national distribution for the league’s football and basketball games.

The Mtn. reaches roughly 13 million homes nationally, while CBS Sports Network is in around 45 million households.

“This is simply one step in the ongoing, evolutionary process which is focused on developing a new organization and structure for our member institutions,” MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. “The goals continue to be creating greater stability, broader exposure platforms and increased revenue, and we are progressing in each of those areas with the appropriate parties.”

Now is where things get interesting.

For a long time, both distribution and lack of High-Definition broadcasting capability have been the biggest beefs with The Mtn. among Mountain West fans. As the league’s profiles both in football and men’s basketball have grown on a national level, many feel as though the league is still somewhat underexposed.

The Mtn. launched in 2006, and was the first cable channel devoted to a single conference. The channel has provided immense exposure for the league that it wouldn’t have otherwise had, but it simply fell behind the curve, as bigger conferences with more money took the MWC’s idea and did it on their own, only bigger and better.

What comes next might hinge largely on what looks to be an impending merger between the Mountain West and Conference USA, which could either pave the way for a new TV deal, or maybe even allow the schools to possibly distribute whatever games are not picked up by CBS Sports Network or the NBC Sports Network — formerly Versus — on their own. The ESPN family of networks are ones which UNLV fans have hoped to see the program’s rising basketball program featured on more and more as the years have passed under the current TV deal. The proof of what ESPN’s involvement could bring was seen this season, as a nationally-televised victory on Nov. 26 over then-No. 1 North Carolina resonated strongly with recruits — most notably Pitt transfer and former McDonald’s All-American Khem Birch, who landed at UNLV at the start of the spring semester. He cited seeing UNLV’s uptempo style under first-year coach Dave Rice in the UNC game as playing an integral role in his commitment.

Also, could a revamped TV package be enough to possibly lure Big East/Big West-bound Boise State and San Diego State back into the fold?

Again, Thursday’s news was not surprising, but it should make talks surrounding the Mountain West’s immediate future much more interesting, as the league has a big revenue-producing opportunity on its hands.

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