When it launched in 2006, the Mtn. was the first of its kind: A college sports network dedicated solely to a conference. Last month, the owners of the network — CBS Sports Network and NBC Universal — announced that they will shut down the Mtn. on May 31.
So what happened? Mountain West Conference officials are — in part — blaming realignment. Utah, Brigham Young and Texas Christian have left the league, and Boise State and San Diego State are Big East-bound after this season. But the departures are only a small part of the story.
The demise of the Mtn. rests with league officials and member teams, who bungled a terrific idea from the start by underestimating the challenge of getting the network distributed.
The Mtn. was available to less than a million homes when it started broadcasting in 2006. Today, it is available in only 13 million homes. Time Warner customers in northern San Diego County were never able to get the Mtn. in its six years of existence.
One unnamed Mountain West coach, in describing The Mtn. to U-T San Diego, called it, "The witness protection network."
And for those who could get it, there were complaints that games were not broadcast in high-definition. Unfortunate for a network that was formed because ESPN offered less money and bad timeslots to Mountain West teams, forcing the league to look for alternatives.
But back to the distribution issue. The Big Ten took note of the Mtn.'s struggles before it launched its network in 2007. Officials embarked on an aggressive campaign to get the Big Ten Network picked up by cable providers. Comcast, which later merged with NBC Universal, put up the biggest fuss. But after a couple of years, the Big Ten was largely successful.
Lady luck was also on the Big Ten's side.
Michigan opened the 2007 season against Appalachian State in one of the first live-event telecasts on the Big Ten Network. The Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines, 34-32, in one of the greatest upsets in college football history.
And if you didn't have the Big Ten Network, you missed the telecast. That no doubt put pressure on cable companies.
Today the Big Ten Network — rebranded as BTN in 2011 — is available to an estimated 73 million households.
Although CBS Sports Network, which is in 45 million homes, remains the rights holder to Mountain West games, it won't be able to broadcast as many games as the Mtn., which telecast 30 last season. Perhaps the NBC Sports Network will step in. Otherwise, it's up to local affiliates to pick up broadcasts. And telecasting a football game is not cheap. Doing it in HD is even more expensive.
It's going to be a busy summer for the Mountain West and its members, who are scrambling to sort it all out.