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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

The Bulldogs Won. But You Didn’t Watch.

Louisiana Tech’s season opened with a two-point loss at Southern Mississippi, which is one of those losses that look better with each passing week, regardless of the Golden Eagles’ distressing loss to U.A.B. last Thursday. Two weeks later, the Bulldogs had Houston on the ropes — out of the ring, in fact — but allowed Case Keenum and the Cougars to storm back in the fourth quarter to notch a one-point win. That was followed by an overtime loss to Mississippi State and a 44-26 home loss to Hawaii. The Bulldogs haven’t lost since. But you haven’t been watching.

It’s not your fault. Louisiana Tech won the WAC on Saturday, beating Nevada, 24-20, for its sixth consecutive win. But it wasn’t on television: it was the only WAC game not to be televised.

While the conference title was being decided in Reno without a camera in sight, the following WAC games were available either on TV or streaming online: Navy and San Jose State; Utah State and Idaho; B.Y.U. and New Mexico State; and Hawaii and Fresno State.

Not a good game among the bunch. Neither the Midshipmen or Spartans will reach bowl play. Idaho took Utah State to overtime — it was exciting — but the game didn’t register the slightest blip on the F.B.S. radar. B.Y.U. beat the Aggies by 35 points. Hawaii and Fresno State are two of the biggest disappointments in college football.

Louisiana Tech and Nevada? That was the WAC game of the year, if not one of the top non-B.C.S. conference games of the season. And it wasn’t on TV; while viewers were subjected to extra innings in Moscow, those with a rooting interest in the goings-on in Reno were forced to track the game online — or buy tickets, I suppose.

Disappointing. And intriguing, I suppose — why would the WAC not televise its marquee game of the season? There are no ulterior motives: the decision to not broadcast the game was made way back in August, not last week. So while fans were up in arms over not being able to watch the Bulldogs and Wolf Pack, it stands to reason that the conference was likewise kicking itself over making a shortsighted summertime decision not to televise the game.

I asked the WAC about its broadcasting guidelines. Jeff Hurd, the senior athletics commissioner for the WAC, provided the following explanation:

“You are correct that the game is not being televised and that it is the only game this weekend not being televised or streamed,” said Hurd. “But it is not because of any conference-imposed restrictions.”

ESPN owns first right to all WAC games, and it opted to pass on the game when its season schedule was originally determined during the summer. Idaho-Utah State (ESPN Regional) and San Jose State-Navy (ESPN3) both are being done on some ESPN platform as is N.M.S.U.–Brigham Young (ESPNU). Again, those decisions were made long before Louisiana Tech-Nevada carried the importance from a league standpoint that it does.

So don’t blame the WAC: blame ESPN, which had its choice of games over the summer but opted for Utah State’s trip to Idaho and San Jose State’s date with Navy rather than the game that eventually decided the conference. The lone WAC choice, according to Hurd, was Fresno State and Hawaii: “The WAC Sports Network also established its schedule prior to the start of the season and (did) the Fresno State at Hawaii game on Saturday.”

And it’s not as if the Bulldogs or Wolf Pack couldn’t have shown the game themselves, according to Hurd. “Further, both Louisiana Tech and Nevada have the right to televise the game on a local basis or to stream it. Both declined to do so.”

ESPN passed first. Then the WAC passed. Then Louisiana Tech and Nevada did the same, though it’s very difficult — and not cheap, it should be said — to provide your own coverage without a national or regional provider. All this is extremely unfortunate: no matter how you cut it, regardless of where the blame lies, we all missed the WAC game of the year.

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  1. 4.0 Point Stance says:

    I think what’s really amazing is how we can so casually take it for granted that “well of course this late season WAC game between two 6-win teams would be televised.” Twenty years ago both of these teams would probably have not been on TV all season. Even ten years they’d only have been on if they had scheduled Nebraska. Now we assume that every game, anywhere, against anybody, will naturally be on TV.

    So why is this important? Twenty years ago Nevada would have been a total mystery to a football fan not living in Nevada. Hell, for any Southern football fan, any West Coast team not named USC would be a total mystery (and vice versa of course). ESPN is almost singlehandedly responsible for changing college football from a regional sport to a truly national sport. A related topic is whether this is a causative factor in the recent mania for crowning a “national” champion as opposed to conference championships being the primary goal.

  2. Tom Morris says:

    In all fairness, Nevada DID stream live the audio/video of its game broadcast on the internet. LA TECH fans (and Nevada fans) could pay a $10 access fee to watch and listen to Nevada’s story of losing the game . . . .

  3. DMK says:

    Remember checking box scores only *after* the game was entirely over (and on Monday mornings for late games)? They were in a thing called the local paper, sort of like a Kindle but big and floppy and stuck.

  4. JB says:

    I actually watched the game online starting in the 3 quarter thanks to my roommate sending me a link. I wish it would have been televised but I got to see it online. I’m okay with that.

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  6. Parker says:

    Hi Paul

    I’m proud of the fact that Houston beat the WAC champs on the road. Congrats to Sonny Dykes and staff on turning the thing around. It could have easily gotten away from them.

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