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Scott D. Pierce: Utes scrambling to get games on TV next season

Published February 26, 2011 10:14 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This is hard to believe, but there will be University of Utah fans who will actually miss The Mtn. next season.

Stay with me here. I know this is stunning news. And — rest assured — it's a temporary, one-year situation.

Shocking as this may be to some fans, there are Pac-10 schools that do not have all their football and men's basketball games televised. That will continue this fall, because the reconstituted Pac-12 is in the final year of its current TV deal.

And that has Utah scrambling to try to get its game on TV. At least local TV.

"We want to do as many as we can," said U. athletic director Chris Hill. "That's the goal. We're still trying to work it out."

Local stations — to varying degrees — have expressed interest in picking up Ute games.

The details are pending, but Hill said he's "optimistic" that a deal — "kind of a stop-gap measure" — will be worked out for local telecasts of games that aren't picked up as part of the Pac-12's deals with ESPN and FSN. But it's complicated, particularly given that those networks can choose games six and 12 days before they're played. And there are restrictions on when you can televise games that aren't on those networks.

"A year from now, it's a totally different deal because the Pac-12 will capture all the inventory," Hill said.

Not only is the league expected to launch its own channel, but it has several suitors for an additional package of games, including Fox Sports Net and the Fox broadcast network; Comcast/NBC; and ESPN, which is not expected to mount a strong challenge but is still in talks with the Pac-12.

"It's a very interesting dynamic," Hill said. "There appears to be a lot of interest."

He wouldn't say it, so I will. It's nice to be in a league that big-time networks want to be in business with instead of a league begging for attention.

Although, for the upcoming school year, there will be games that aren't on TV.

And games that are only on local TV, so out-of-state Ute fans accustomed to watching their team on The Mtn. on DirecTV will be out of luck.

"We're trying to patch it together as best we can so that our fans can get as many of the games as they can," Hill said. "And, hopefully, have some patience because we think that [beginning in the fall of 2012] all the football and men's basketball games will be on."

And on a channel that looks more like the slick, professional Big Ten Network than the often-infuriating The Mtn.

Sometimes I feel I've been too hard on The Mtn. But then we're subjected to color commentator Bob Donewald's nonstop shrieking during the BYU-TCU game. Along with the incredible disappearing graphics. (What's the score? How much time remains? Who knows?)

Later that day, 15-20 minutes after the guys on KALL 700 AM had confirmed that Will Clyburn would sit out the Utes' game at New Mexico, the guys on The Mtn. were still telling viewers he might play. And the studio team, led by Marius Payton, repeatedly told viewers that Utah was on a five-game losing streak — even though the Utes had beaten Wyoming three days earlier.

These are the experts on the Mountain West?

Soon the only person in Utah who will miss The Mtn. is me. I'll have a lot less to write about.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. His column on sports TV appears on Wednesday. Contact him at spierce@sltrib.com