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Olson critical of Fox, wants more exposure

CHRIS CODUTO / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona's Lute Olson yells at a player during the second half of Arizona's game against Washington, Feb. 26, at Bank of America Arena in Seattle. Olson feels that the PAC-10 has not received the amount of attention it should receive from broadcast stations, particularly FOX Sports.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 7. 2005
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Arizona head basketball coach Lute Olson has often spoken about his distaste for the Pacific 10 Conference's lack of national exposure.

He was more poignant Tuesday, criticizing Fox Sports for a number of things, including Sunday night nationally televised ACC games on Fox Sports Net.

"Frankly, Fox has put more advertising into the ACC Sunday night than they did for the Pac-10 on Thursday and Saturday," Olson said.

Olson called for a Wednesday rivalry game that would pit Arizona against ASU in a nationally televised game on ESPN. He said the Pac-10 should put some heat on Fox, whose contract with the league runs out after the 2005-2006 season.

"We should have a Wednesday night game," Olson stated. "They can call it the rivalry game. We can move the game from Saturday to Wednesday and put it on ESPN.

"I think it's a critical thing that the Pac-10 do in negotiations because if Fox can do that (ACC Sunday night) then I believe we should go to ESPN on Wednesdays," he added.

If Fox doesn't agree to the plan Olson suggested, then he believes the Pac-10 should take that into account when negotiating a new contract with whatever network will air Pac-10 games.

Olson was particularly upset with the Feb. 26 game at Washington, a battle of the Pac-10's leading teams, both of which were ranked in the top 15 in the country. The game was run by Fox Sports Net, but some markets did not receive the game.

"There was a game nationally recognized like the Washington game and still there were a whole lot of areas in the country that did not take that game," Olson said. "It all depends on the stations in the different time zones whether they pick the game up or not, so it's not a national game. They can say it's a national game but it's not a national game."

The game not only had the Pac-10 championship on the line, but also featured two teams ranked No. 2 and No. 13 in the nation in scoring, making it a prime candidate for national exposure. With Arizona winning the first matchup in the series at home, the game in Washington was a revenge game as well.

"That game was as exciting a game to watch as any game in the country," Olson said.

Even the North Carolina/Duke game did not match Arizona/Washington according to Olson.

"You have someone watch the Duke/Carolina game as a neutral observer and our game at Washington, and I think you would find that a neutral person would have enjoyed the game in Washington more than Duke/Carolina," Olson said.

Olson used the example of the Big 12, which has a contract with Fox but also plays on ESPN as part of Big Monday. He said that students watch those games, knowing that if they go to a Big 12 school, they are assured of appearing on national television.

Arizona did play on ESPN three times this season, all in non-conference situations. The preseason NIT games against Michigan and Wake Forest were both on ESPN, as was the game against Marquette.

Olson said a lack of national exposure hurts in the recruiting department more than anything, as well as with national media exposure.

"It kills us with recruiting, absolutely kills us, and it's used against us," Olson said. "The amount of damage that it does in our league, it's amazing how much it hurts us. I think it's time for our league to step up and recognize this."

Despite the lack of exposure on national television, Olson has managed to recruit players from all over the country including Mustafa Shakur from Philadelphia, Jesus Verdejo from Massachusetts via Florida and Puerto Rico, Kirk Walters from Michigan, and Jawann McClellan from Texas.

In fact, only two of the current players on the team hail from Arizona. Even with his recruiting prowess, Olson said it is still tough to explain to recruits why the Wildcats do not play on television in their hometowns.

"I think the league office's job is to put our conference in a position of maximum exposure," Olson said.

With only one more year left on the contract with Fox, and Arizona Athletics Director Jim Livengood taking over as the chairman of the television committee in the Pac-10, Olson's ideas might carry more weight in the ongoing negotiations for Pac-10 basketball and football rights.

Calls to Fox representative Dan Bell, vice president of communications, in regard to Olson's comments were not returned.

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