Pierce: It’s a watershed ESPN moment for Utah, BYU, USU
Sports on TV • It’s more significant because Utes-Trojans, Aggies-Cougs games aren’t all that momentous.
Published: October 2, 2012 05:53PM
Updated: October 10, 2012 04:54PM
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Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton runs the ball during the first quarter against Utah during a game in Logan on Sept. 7, 2012. Utah's Jared Norris, left, and LT Filiaga are defending.

Have sports fans in Utah so quickly become accustomed to seeing their teams on national television that they don’t recognize the significance of what’s happening this week?

In the space of about 28 hours, Utah, BYU and Utah State will all play on ESPN. And play instate.

On the worldwide leader in sports. A network that’s available in nearly 100 million homes, not counting sports bars and online viewing.

It used to be pretty much impossible to see the Aggies, Cougars or Utes on national TV. Now it’s almost impossible to avoid them.

And these games — Southern California at Utah (Thursday, 7 p.m.) and Utah State at BYU (Friday, 8:15 p.m.) — originate from a pair of stadiums less than 50 miles apart. You might expect to see a pair of games originating in, say, Texas. Or Alabama. Or Michigan. Or California.

But Utah?

“This is really kind of a watershed moment,” said ESPN analyst Rod Gilmore, who will be in Provo for the second week in a row to work the BYU-USU game. “It’s pretty interesting for Utah to have the college football world watching on two consecutive nights in primetime.”

And it’s a humongous leap from two years ago, when BYU and Utah were playing most of their games on The Mtn. and exactly one of USU’s home games was on national television — when the Aggies hosted the Cougars.

It’s difficult to understate how much things have changed since 2010.

And it’s not like either of these games has been shoved onto a minor network in a bad time slot. Utah-USC will air in primetime on the East Coast; USU-BYU will air in primetime on the West Coast.

What makes this Thursday-Friday pair of games even more significant is their relative lack of significance. Sure, an Aggie win on Friday would be big for USU, but these matchups don’t loom large on the national college football landscape. ESPN is not showing up because any of these teams — Utah State (3-1), Utah (2-2), BYU (3-2) or even USC (3-1) — is unbeaten.

“Keep in mind, it’s not like there’s a threat of a BCS buster here,” Gilmore said.

And the games in Utah will serve as “a great, great lead-in to the hottest weekend in college football,” he added.

Yeah, there are some high-profile matchups on Saturday, including Georgia-South Carolina, West Virginia-Texas, Miami-Notre Dame, Nebraska-Ohio State and Washington-Oregon, just to name a few. And Utah, Utah State and BYU are the appetizers for that feast.

At the very least, that’s a great sign for the local teams. One worth noting. Really.

“Do you have the sense that there is recognition in the area that it’s big, it’s unique, that this is happening?” Gilmore asked.

Honestly, no. I get the feeling many local fans take it for granted — and feel that their rights as citizens have been violated if they can’t see a game.

Right, DirecTV subscribers?

We’re in the second season of BYU’s deal with ESPN and the first season of the Pac-12’s monster deal with ESPN/ABC and Fox, and fans seem almost blase´.

They shouldn’t be.

It’s true that the simple fact that a team appears on ESPN doesn’t make it relevant. But it’s hard to be relevant if you’re not on national TV.

And fans shouldn’t be indifferent to that quite yet.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.