The Frogs’ leap from Conference USA to the Mountain West Conference should bring more national visibility to the conference, said Chris Hill, Utah’s athletics director.
Hill said with the addition of TCU, and the departure of many of C-USA’s other top teams, the MWC separates itself from the current pack of non-Bowl Championship Series conferences. He said the MWC has possibly put themselves in position to move into the top echelon of Division I-A college football at the ideal time, just as the current BCS contract expires after the 2005 regular season.
“Our goal is to be part of the BCS,” Hill said.
Hill said he anticipates the MWC will have the best television contract of all the current non-BCS conferences when they re-negotiate their current deal.
Currently, the league is in the fifth year of a seven-year deal that guarantees a minimum of two football games on ABC, four on ESPN, five on ESPN2 and an average of eight syndicated by ESPN Regional Television each season.
The contract also promises an average of 21 men’s basketball games per season and all MWC tournament games on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN Regional Television. A minimum of seven conference and three non-conference games are on ESPN each season, including at least three Big Monday appearances.
ESPN or ESPN2 televise the women’s basketball championship game and one regular-season game.
Head coach Neil Dougherty said television exposure plays a big role in recruiting.
“I am anxious to see what the new TV package looks like, Dougherty said. “The more games we play out West, the less likely it is that we will be seen in the Midwest and East Coast.”
Women’s basketball coach Jeff Mittie said TCU expects to receive more money as a member of the MWC than in C-USA.
“Because it is a nine-team league, there will be larger revenue shares per school,” Mittie said.
The large number of national television appearances the MWC has should make up for the conference’s smaller local markets. In comparison, C-USA has schools in 13 of the nation’s top 50 media markets, including TCU.
Dallas-Fort Worth, the seventh-largest market in the nation, will be the MWC’s largest television market when the Frogs join the league, giving the MWC representation in five of the nation’s top 50 markets.
However, many of the current BCS conference schools come from small markets, proving it is not the overriding factor to obtaining BCS status.
Head football coach Gary Patterson said the smaller markets of the MWC will have no effect on recruiting because national television exposure is what is important, and both of the conferences already have ties to ESPN.
The average football attendance for both conferences was about equal last season. The MWC averaged 32,809 fans a game and C-USA averaged 32,346, including TCU which averaged 36,155. However, those figures are expected to change as C-USA will be losing most of its best supported football programs: Louisville, Cincinnati and TCU, due to realignment.
Mittie said he is excited the MWC includes many schools that are among the foremost athletic institutions in their states. He said New Mexico’s women’s basketball team averages 12,000 fans a game. According to the MWC Web site, that figure ranks fourth in the country. The conference ranked fourth in the nation in women’s basketball attendance in 2003.
Attendance for men’s basketball was also better in the MWC, which ranked fifth in the nation last season with 9,694 fans per game compared to 8,362 per game in C-USA.