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Fans will have to hunt for Utes-Cyclones on TV

Published October 5, 2010 3:46 pm

Contract dispute • Dish Network subscribers unlikely to get Saturday's game.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The 10th-ranked Utah football team returns to TV on Saturday, but many of you won't be able to just sit down and watch the Utes take on Iowa State.

The game is on Fox College Sports, a digital channel available on the more expensive tiers of many cable and satellite systems. Including both Comcast and DirecTV.

As of press time, Dish Network and Fox are locked in another annoying contract dispute, and Fox's sports channels are off Dish's lineup. You've heard this one before — Dish says Fox is asking for "an unprecedented rate increase" and Fox says that's a "gross overstatement." Sigh.

Unless there's a settlement before Saturday, Dish satellite subscribers won't see the Utah-Iowa State game.

And before anybody starts criticizing the Mountain West or its TV partners for any this, remember this game is part of the Big 12's TV deal.

There are, however, still Utah fans who are angry that the Utes' most recent game — the Sept. 25 win over San Jose State — wasn't televised. And, yes, that was a decision made by the The Mtn.

After moving to the Pac-10 next year, Utah might have options. Under the league's current TV contract, which runs through 2011-12, schools can sell local TV rights to games that aren't picked up by ESPN/ABC or Fox Sports Net.

"We're looking at both over-the-air and cable," said Utah athletic director Chris Hill. "There are a lot of options."

In other words, local rights could be sold to a local station or, say, FSN-Utah.

There are no such rights under the MWC deal. And Utah-SJSU wasn't on TV because of policy set by the league presidents, who wanted to see intra-league games and schedule stability.

"The league put a priority on having game times set well in advance," Hill said. "That doesn't give you a chance to put teams on that are hot or are nationally ranked."

On Sept. 25, The Mtn. aired both conference matchups — Air Force-Wyoming and New Mexico-UNLV. It had four choices to fill the third slot in the triple-header: SJSU at Utah; USU at San Diego State; Idaho at Colorado State; and Nevada at BYU, which looked like the most intriguing matchup last spring.

The Mtn. released its football schedule March 29. So it shouldn't have surprised anyone that Utah-SJSU wasn't televised.

A game like that could be televised locally next season. But that may be a one-year thing.

"I think in the future, as with almost all the leagues, they're going to control all the inventory," Hill said. The Pac-10 is looking at launching a network of its own in addition to putting games on cable and broadcast networks.

Going forward, Ute fans will be both pleased and annoyed. Pleased because games will be available to a much larger audience; annoyed because it will be harder to plan ahead.

"We're going to see a lot more TBA start times," said Hill, because the Pac-10's TV partners will be able to pick which games they want within a few days of kickoff.

"That's what we're going to eventually get used to," Hill said.

As for that San Jose State game, rather than aiming your anger at The Mtn., the better question might be where Versus and CBS C were in all of this. Versus is carrying a total of eight games featuring MWC teams this fall; CBS C is airing 11.

Some partners.

But it's the last year we'll have to worry about it.

NOT A JAZZ PROBLEM: After Saturday's Utah-Iowa State game, the Fox-Dish dispute won't affect any more local football telecasts.

And because FSN-Rocky Mountain and FSN-Utah have been sold to DirecTV, it won't affect those channels. Or local Jazz telecasts.

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