Pac-10 fans and coaches have long lamented that the conference isn't a regular player on ESPN during football season, thinking it can't...

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Pac-10 fans and coaches have long lamented that the conference isn’t a regular player on ESPN during football season, thinking it can’t help recruiting when the conference has been largely invisible on the network most associated with college sports.

Well, they’re about to find out how much that really matters. The conference announced yesterday that it has reached a five-year deal with ABC and ESPN — each owned by the Walt Disney Co. — beginning with the 2007 season.

ABC, which has broadcast Pac-10 games since 1989, will continue to show roughly 14 Pac-10 games a year in a new agreement that will carry through the 2011 season.

Additionally, ESPN will also show an average of six Pac-10 games a season on either ESPN or ESPN2, beginning in 2007. The network has not televised Pac-10 games, other than nonconference games in which the Pac-10 was the road team, since 1994.

“This is good,” said UW athletic director Todd Turner. “This is important for the Pac-10 because for the first time it gives us more formal access into all of the various platforms that are represented by the ESPN brand,” such as ESPN’s popular “GameDay” program on Saturday mornings.

The Pac-10 will also continue its deal with FSN, which carries the conference’s “secondary package” of games, meaning it has its pick of contests not selected by ABC or ESPN.

John Wildhack, vice president of programming for ESPN, said “this is the largest commitment we have ever made to Pac-10 football.”

Time-zone restrictions have always hindered negotiations between the Pac-10 and ESPN. But Wildhack said ESPN had some West Coast time zone slots become available when the network recently declined to extend its deal with the Mountain West Conference, which expires after this season. The new 12-game schedule for college football, with the Pac-10 this week agreeing to play nine conference games a season starting in 2006, also increased the options for games to be shown on ESPN.

Wildhack said there is a chance that some games will be shown on Thursday nights.

Rights fees weren’t disclosed, but it is expected that the deal will mean more money for the Pac-10 and its member schools. According to the Sports Business Journal, the Pac-10’s current 10-year deal with ABC is worth $169 million, while the current 10-year deal with FSN is worth $153 million.

Unfortunately for Pac-10 basketball fans and coaches, who also have long wished to be regularly featured on ESPN, the deal is for football only.

The Pac-10 is also negotiating to renew its basketball TV deal, and it is expected that FSN will remain the primary carrier with ESPN likely not involved.

“There’s just not a lot of opportunity nor interest from ESPN’s standpoint for West Coast basketball,” Turner said. “There’s some interest, but it’s limited.”

Turner said ESPN might be interested in “eight to 10” Pac-10 basketball games a season whereas the FSN deal calls for 40 or more. FSN does farm out some basketball games to ABC and CBS, such as the Pac-10 Conference tournament title game, which gives the Pac-10 some national exposure.

Sports Business Journal says FSN’s nine-year deal for basketball, which expires after next season, pays the Pac-10 $52.5 million.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or