HELENA - Montana and Montana State football fans are issuing a unanimous "C'mon Man!" to the powers-that-be at ESPN, after the network announced it does not plan to televise the teams' second-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff games next weekend.
ESPN, which owns the broadcast rights to the FCS playoff games, plans to carry the New Hampshire-Montana State game and Montana's game against the winner of the Tennessee Tech-Central Arkansas game on ESPN3.com, an Internet-only feed that is not widely available in Montana.
While UM and MSU fans and athletes are usually bitter rivals, they are teaming up this week to lobby "The Worldwide Leader in Sports."
A Missoula businessman started a Facebook page on which fans are posting their pleas for ESPN to broadcast the Dec. 3 games in Montana or sell the broadcast rights to other stations.
"My reason behind the whole thing wasn't just for the Cats or the Griz. It was the other ... schools in the playoffs that are affected by the same thing," John Sterrett said Wednesday.
Recent posts range from polite pleas for ESPN to consider the legions of college football fans in the state of Montana and offer them an early Christmas present to finger-wagging posts that say "shame on ESPN." Others argue televising the games would be good economic stimulus for bars. Some suggest fellow fans complain to sponsors and others say they'd even settle for a pay-per-view option.
Even Montana's congressional delegation sent letters to ESPN officials on Tuesday.
"In the spirit of teamwork and good sportsmanship, I'm hoping ESPN will rethink its decision and work with Montanans to make sure fans are able to support their teams through the playoffs," Sen. Max Baucus wrote Tuesday. "It's time for a timeout so we can take a look at this game plan and make sure it works for Montanans."
Sen. Jon Tester told ESPN/ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer that college football is a treasured tradition in Montana.
"Within hours of hearing your decision, Montanans put their friendly rivalries aside to cheer for a common goal: to encourage ESPN to reconsider. Hundreds of fans have written to your network, and they are petitioning on a new Facebook page devoted to this cause. You can expect many more."
By 1 p.m. Wednesday, nearly 11,000 people already had expressed their interest in seeing the games on TV while more than 60,000 people have Facebook invitations to do so.
Rep. Denny Rehberg urged ESPN to "call an audible" and expand the availability of the games to a wider audience. He added that he hoped ESPN "will recognize the simple fact that you stand to gain more from any arrangement that allows these games to be broadcast on local stations."
Several Montana fans reported receiving the same email response from ESPN when they asked for some option to see the game.
"ESPN makes its programming decisions based on a number of factors, including viewership, as reflected by ratings and the interest from advertisers and affiliates, on a nationwide basis."
The response then notes that ESPN3 is available through affiliated Internet service providers, on college campuses and through Xbox LIVE to Gold members as well as on smartphones and tablets through an affiliated provider.
"ESPN is making an unprecedented commitment to the NCAA Division I Football Championship with more coverage than ever before across our entities, including ESPN3," Josh Krulewitz, ESPN vice president of public relations for college, news and networks information, said in an email to The Associated Press. "We are aware of the inquiries from the Montana congressmen and we will follow up with each of them."
ESPN seems to be pretty set in its decision, Sterrett said, "but better miracles have happened."