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Brad Rock: Utes gain a wealth of opportunity with new Pac-12 TV deal

Published: Tuesday, May 3 2011 11:20 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — CBS produced a TV series in the 1960s called "The Beverly Hillbillies." The story involved the Clampetts, a backwoods family that struck oil and became rich. Not long after, the family moved to Bev-er-ly (Hills, that is; swimmin' pools, movie stars). Practically every episode involved the pleasure and pain of adjusting to their newfound lifestyle.

Don't the Utes know it.

As Jed Clampett, patriarch of the clan would say, "Woooooo, doggies!"

The University of Utah athletic program made the biggest financial leap of its history this week when the Pac-12 secured its television contract with Fox Sports and ESPN. In short, that means approximately $21 million per season will go to each team in the conference. By comparison, Utah made $1.2 million on its Mountain West Conference agreement.

You have to credit the Utes with timing. They got good in football just in time for Pac-10 expansion. Without even playing a down in its new conference, Utah stands to earn roughly $240 million over the 12-year contract (Utah doesn't get TV money next season).

The Ute program will be wealthy beyond its hopes.

News of the new TV deal wasn't a surprise. Projected numbers have been floating around since last summer. Still, the reality didn't hit home with Utah fans until Monday when stories began to be circulating. In a way, the Utes are livin' la vida loca.

It's not like Utah is lacking places to spend its money. It is already building a first-rate football and sports medicine facility. It gradually will build a softball stadium, upgrade the Huntsman Center and expand the football stadium.

What, no gold bathroom fixtures?

But the U. doesn't need to upgrade everything right now. Take a trip to other Pac-12 basketball arenas. Most are fairly old. The Huntsman Center measures up fine. Similarly, Rice-Eccles Stadium is as nice as virtually all others in the conference.

Beyond the facilities, the Utes will have more money for hiring, recruiting and, well, impressing.

The reality check here is that Utah doesn't get a full Pac-12 share until 2014. Meanwhile, the other schools will be splitting the remainder. Even when Utah does get a full share, so will everyone else.

Nevertheless, there's no denying Utah is moving quickly ahead. The main thing it needs to do now is play. That's the tough part.

Utah isn't as deep in football as it should be, but it has proven it can beat Pac-12 teams with regularity. It is only 52-90-3 against Pac-12 teams, but 7-3 since 2003. Since 1999, Utah has defeated every Pac-10 school except the ones it hasn't played (Washington, Stanford and Arizona State).

Considering eight teams went no better than 5-4 in conference last season, and seven were no better than 7-6 overall, Utah won't likely be meeting many unbeatables in 2011. As Utah's impeccable timing would have it, the Utes aren't scheduled to play either Oregon or Stanford next season — the two likely leaders in the league.

Likewise, women's basketball and gymnastics should do well in the long term. Men's basketball has been a recent disaster, but considering the school's history of success — and the fact it only takes a couple of great recruits to turn things around — that too could succeed.

Utah only needs to excel in a few sports, not all of them — just the ones that make money. That's how NCAA athletics work nowadays.

Tuesday's news brought home the realization to Utah fans that the Pac-12 is almost here. The only thing between now and games are the conference meetings. Utah's first Pac-12 contest is Sept. 10 at USC.

The difficult thing for the Utes is that they're already in traffic, stuck in the fast lane. The good part: It's nice to have some serious spending money to bring along for the ride.

email: rock@desnews.com

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