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It's impossible to overestimate how much joining the Pac-12 will mean to the University of Utah in terms of television coverage — and the huge amount of money that will accompany the league's new TV deal.

There will, however, be one similarity to what Ute fans have been living with in the Mountain West Conference since 2006. Some of you — potentially, a whole lot of you who live outside the six states that make up the Pac-12 — will have to subscribe to satellite TV to get the Pac-12 channel.

Remember, none of this takes effect until the fall 2012. The Pac-12 is in the last year of the Pac-10's old TV deal.

A year from now, the league will be gearing up for the launch of the Pac-12 network, which will join ABC/ESPN and Fox/FX in carrying Pac-12 football (among other sports).

The Pac-12 network is the iffiest part of the package. Getting it on cable and satellite systems will be "the biggest challenge," said Utah athletic director Chris Hill.

(Cable companies aren't commenting about the Pac-12 network at this point. Because, as of yet, there's no channel to comment on.)

Certainly, nobody is anticipating the same kind of losing battle the MWC is still fighting. Five years after it launched, The Mtn. is still available in less than 1 percent of American homes.

The Pac-12 brand will go a long way to getting the channel on cable systems — particularly in Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

But there's not a bigger brand in American sports than the NFL, and the NFL Network is not available in 58 million U.S households. The numbers are about the same for both the MLB Network and NBA TV.

A better comparison is probably the Big Ten Network. And it's not available in 40 million homes.

The Pac-12 is going to be trying to break in to an already overcrowded TV landscape where gaining distribution is the biggest challenge.

"It's hand-to-hand combat at times," said Burke Magnus, ESPN's senior vice president of college sports programming — the executive who signed the deal with the Pac-12. The league has "put together a plan that makes a lot of sense. But it's still going to be a difficult proposition. I don't care who you are, that's the nature of the business right now."

As was the case with The Mtn., "The goal is to be able to see it in as wide distribution as we can," Hill said. "But now we've got a lot of power. A lot of major markets that have a lot of leverage, hopefully, to get things done."

The Pac-12 has clout in the No. 2 (Los Angeles), No. 6 (San Francisco), No. 12 (Phoenix), No. 13 (Seattle), No. 17 (Denver), No. 22 (Portland) and No. 32 (Salt Lake) television markets. That's heavy artillery when you're fighting the distribution battle in the West. But those guns will be thousands of miles away when the Pac-12 is fighting to get on cable systems in the Eastern time zone. And it's Ute fans in other parts of the country who will end up being forced to go the satellite-TV route.

Again, the good news is we're talking the Pac-12, not the Mountain West Conference. It's difficult to imagine that the Pac-12 network won't be available on DirecTV and Dish when it launches — let alone for two years after it launches, as was the case with The Mtn.

It's more difficult to imagine that five years after it launches, the Pac-12 network still won't be on Dish.

But being in the Pac-12 won't automatically mean that Ute fans everywhere are going to be able to see their team on their local cable systems.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. His sports on TV column runs Wednesdays. Email him at; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at