The Idaho Statesman's Boise St. beat reporter Chadd Cripe reported on Wednesday that CBS has declined its option to carry the Mountain West's football championship game in 2015. The original contract was for two years with an option for a third year.
I am a little surprised that CBS declined the option, unless the cost paid to the conference outweighed the rating received for the game. Some markets elected to place the game on a digital subchannel or move the game to another station as its 10pm ET start time usually conflicted with airings of late local news.
I do not know if ESPN's agreement with the Mountain West allows it an exclusive negotiation window for the game in the event that CBS declines to air the game, or if it can immediately accept bids for the game from other parties such as FOX or NBC. CBS earned the right to negotiate for the game first when it worked with the conference to reconstruct its rights agreement and allow ESPN in as a second national partner.
ESPN has the bandwidth to air the game on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 if it wants to. I left out ESPNU because it usually offers a full schedule of college basketball on this particular Saturday, though it carried the SWAC Championship in 2014. Last year ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 carried two games each on this Saturday. In 2015 they are currently scheduled to air four conference championship games (ACC, American, Conference USA and Pac-12) plus there are two Big 12 games available to both ESPN and FOX Sports platforms. ESPN is also scheduled to air the MLS Cup Final in 2015 and it could air on Saturday or Sunday.
ESPN also cleared out Friday 12/4, moving the Big 12-SEC Challenge to late January. In previous years, ESPN would have aired two games on Friday night from this series or the late Big East-SEC Challenge. With that said, they may have opened up the evening so they can air a NBA doubleheader like they do most Friday nights.
In 2016 or in even numbered years in general, there would be slightly more space for ESPN to carry the game. FOX has rights to the Pac-12 championship game and the MLS Cup final those years. The C-USA football championship, which ESPN currently holds the rights to as a settlement for a lawsuit between the network and the conference, could end up with another network. I am unclear as to whether the game's rights must first be negotiated with ESPN or if they can be placed back into a general rights agreement for the conference. As part of FOX's contract with C-USA, they originally negotiated for the rights to the game.
Also, as Cripe noted separately, CBS declining the option does not mean they cannot negotiate a new contract. The agreement that CBS and the conference operated under may not have allowed for the game to air on CBS Sports Network. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson was quoted as saying its probable "we'll be changing networks", and changing from CBS to CBSSN would be a network change, but it does sound like CBS won't air the game on any of its platforms.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the potential for CBS declining their upcoming four year option to continue airing the Mountain West on CBS and CBSSN. My position on that really hasn't changed with CBS declining a one year option. It is about halfway down this post if you are interested.