On the surface, it might not make much sense for ESPN to sign a deal to become the secondary rights holder for a college conference. However, the details in this agreement make things seem like another massive victory for the Worldwide Leader.
According to press releases sent out by the network and the Mountain West, ESPN and the conference have agreed "in principle" to a rights deal for select football and basketball games. The deal begins with the upcoming 2013 football season and lasts through the 2019-20 academic year. The key point to the deal, however, is that ESPN has won exclusive rights to Boise State football home games. It essentially has with the Broncos what NBC has with Notre Dame.
The deal states that ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC must "televise a minimum of three Boise State football home games nationally." The rest can air on those three networks if they are of a high profile, but can also air on ESPNU, ESPNews, or ESPN3. Sixteen total Mountain West football games per season will air on the networks of ESPN, while 31 conference basketball games will also end up on the family of channels.
ESPN sublicensed select Mountain West football games last year, in the first time they had aired football from the conference since 2005. CBS -- which remains the conference's primary rights holder -- and OLN/VERSUS/NBC Sports Network had split the conference's football and basketball contract from 2005-2012. CBS will maintain rights to pretty much every big game in the MWC that doesn't occur on blue turf, as well as Boise State road games, and the soon-to-be-formed Mountain West Conference football championship game. They already own the rights to the basketball tournament.
Twelve football teams (and 11 basketball) will make up the Mountain West in 2013-14: Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii (football only), Nevada, New Mexico, San Jose State, San Diego State, Utah State and Wyoming.