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Report: Conflicting interests pushed ASU-Utah game to Pac-12 Network

Running back Eno Benjamin #3 of the Arizona State Sun Devils rushes the football against the Utah Utes during the first half of the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

If you want to see now-No. 18 Arizona State take on now-No. 15 Utah on Oct. 19, you’ll only be able to see it if you’re at the game in Salt Lake City or you have Pac-12 Network.

That’s because, according to a report from The Mercury News, the anticipated marquee matchup was put on the conference network instead of a bigger network, like ESPN, due to competing interests of the conference. Here’s why.

The Mercury reported that ESPN, Pac-12 Network and ESPN again took turns in that order to choose which games they wanted to broadcast on Oct. 19. ESPN took Oregon-Washington for its first pick and then Pac-12 Network, with the second selection, chose to have the ASU at Utah game on its airwaves.

The only problem, as the Mercury pointed out, is that while ASU at Utah was obviously a good choice from the network’s perspective, the network is owned by the conference, which would benefit greatly from having one of its top games of the week broadcast to an audience up to nearly five times the size of that which has access to Pac-12 Network.

The Mercury reported that ESPN2 is in more than 80 million homes, while ESPNU is in 65 million homes. Pac-12 Network has an audience of “about 17 million” homes.

In marketing 101, that would appear to be an epic fail.

Except things aren’t so simple in the Pac-12, where the schools own 100 percent of the television network.

The Pac-12 Networks selected ASU-Utah because it was “a rare opportunity for us to have two ranked teams,” president Mark Shuken told the Hotline on Tuesday.

“It wasn’t only a clear-cut choice,” he added, “but I view it as us having an obligation to our owners.”

Those owners, of course, are the schools.

If one or both of ASU and Utah lose their games this week (ASU hosts unranked Washington State; Utah visits Oregon State), the schools’ game on Oct. 19 could be less consequential. But for now, it appears the Pac-12 chose to benefit its network over getting more conference exposure.

Could the conference side of the operation intervene and insist that the Pac-12 Networks leave ASU-Utah for ESPN?

The conference could — commissioner Larry Scott is also the chief executive of the networks — but the conference doesn’t.

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