Kragthorpe: Will Utes be ready for basketball exposure?
Not until college athletic administrators began talking so much about television contracts lately did exposure become such a favorable word.
In the past, being exposed was never considered good for you. To expose something is variously defined as "to lay open to danger" and "to hold up to public reprehension or ridicule." That's what "60 Minutes" does to people. That's what a U.S. Open course can do to good golfers. That's a word Jimmer Fredette used in discussing what can happen to an NBA prospect in a predraft workout.
Exposure is helpful when a product is worthy of being displayed. University of Utah men's basketball, in contrast, probably should remain hidden for a while.
Yet the timing of the Pac-12's new television package is just right for Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. After what's likely to be a disastrous first year for him and the Utes in the new league, the TV contract will take effect for the 2012-13 season.
That's when the Utes should produce a team they're more willing to have uncovered. Two transfers, Aaron Dotson (LSU) and Glen Dean (Eastern Washington), will be eligible to play, and Krystkowiak's other initial recruits will have a year's experience in his system.
The Utes will benefit enough from being associated with the Pac-12 to offset the slight climb in the level of competition from the Mountain West, and the TV deal is a big part of that. The league's brand, coupled with the opportunity for players' parents to watch them on one platform or another, will give Krystkowiak more of a chance to build the program.
Jeff Smith, a former Ute assistant coach, once cited the Mountain West's ongoing credibility issue. In the West, he said, "Everybody talks about Pac-10, Pac-10, Pac-10, Pac-10. Where I'm from [Michigan], it's Big Ten, Big Ten, Big Ten."
And now the Utes are Pac-12 members. The league's established coaches are thrilled about the TV contract that calls for 46 basketball games on ESPN's networks every season. Conference games will be played on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and the Pac-12 will be highlighted in a 9 p.m. Mountain Time slot. In addition, 22 contests will be carried on Fox's national and regional channels.
The Utes will have to earn any of those prime appearances. But if you want to watch Utah play, you can. All other games will be televised by the Pac-12 Network targeting an August 2012 launch or its digital network.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott expects to secure wide distribution of the Pac-12 Network, thanks largely to the league's football inventory. Beyond the billions of dollars involved in the TV negotiations, Scott said exposure was "paramount to every discussion we had."
That's what Krystkowiak can sell. Certainly, every other school in the conference will have the same advantages. Some programs will benefit more than others because they recruit nationally. But the promised showcasing has to help Utah attract players and accelerate its drive toward respectability.
Any progress the Utes make in Krystkowiak's first season will be considered a bonus. The 18-game conference schedule will be demanding in 2011-12, exposing the state of the Ute program with another coaching transition and the transfers of key players, including forwards Will Clyburn and J.J. O'Brien.
But if he can establish his culture for the program and create hope for the future by winning five or six conference games, Krystkowiak will be headed in the right direction. The Utes will enter the 2012-13 season with the bulk of their personnel returning.
By then, they should welcome the increased viewership. Having the Ute basketball program exposed will become a good thing, as opposed to the current situation.
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