Hoop Vols deserve more TV

Even though the Tennessee men's basketball team had a losing record in 2004-05, athletic director Mike Hamilton was disappointed the Vols had so few national television appearances in Bruce Pearl's first season.

In the regular season, the Vols were not on CBS and made ESPN or ESPN2 just three times. Two of those games – Texas and Oklahoma State – were scheduled by Pearl to get his team more exposure. The UT at Kentucky game was on ESPN.

As Tennessee was marching toward an SEC East Division title, it didn't result in more TV exposure. Why? Because CBS and ESPN select basketball games before the season. In football, CBS and ESPN select a handful of games during the preseason, but often exercise a 12-day notice to pick the most appealing matchups.

If football can do it, why not basketball?

``If you had a two-week window in basketball, that might make sense,'' Hamilton said. ``I'd like to sit down with some guys at ESPN and let them shoot holes in that as to why it wouldn't work. This season has given me reason to think about why couldn't it happen. Why wouldn't we do that? I don't think I've totally flushed that out.

``We certainly feel like we deserved more TV opportunities that we had last year.''

One game in particular would have been a bonanza for ESPN: Tennessee at Florida on Feb. 22. The Vols won on Dane Bradshaw's late steal and layup to clinch the East title over the favored and eventual national champion Gators.

``We were coming off a 14-17 season and made a coaching change,'' Hamilton said. ``So at some level, you understand a little bit of that (lack of TV exposure). But our contention was we had a veteran squad and a coach who had been to the Sweet 16 who had some charisma.''

Pearl likes the idea of picking games two weeks out.

``It would be to everyone's benefit,'' he said. ``It would give the network and the league more flexibility in trying to find the better games. Certainly I'd love to see them try to make that work.''

Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn and Ole Miss were the only SEC teams that didn't make it on CBS during the regular season. It was not a coincidence. Those four teams also had the worst record in the SEC last year.

After winning the East Division and being a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Hamilton is optimistic the Vols will be on CBS or ESPN or ESPN2 quite a bit. He said that South Carolina, after winning the 2005 NIT, made about six appearances on CBS and ESPN.

The Vols play Texas, Oklahoma State and Memphis in the non-conference and might add Syracuse. The Vols are also in the Preseason NIT and will play Florida, Kentucky and 2006 NIT champion South Carolina twice, as well as LSU and Alabama.

UT should get on CBS and ESPN at least eight times.

``One of our biggest challenges at Tennessee would be to create some non-conferences games that are going to be nationally televised and appealing,'' Pearl said. ``That's why we played Texas and Memphis and Oklahoma State. Those are tough games to play and tough games to win.''

Pearl said Tennessee's style of play and the fact that the Vols went undefeated on the road against East Division opponents is another drawing card.

``They (TV people) look for teams that can go on the road and hang in there,'' Pearl said.

They also look at teams projected to do well, and teams that have good home attendance. UT ranked fifth in the nation last year, averaging almost 18,000 per game.

``Pat Summitt told me that's why national TV comes to Knoxville for the women's games,'' Pearl said. ``They want to see that kind of support, 18,000 to 20,000 fans. They don't want to see empty orange seats.''

The SEC is also discussing playing the Big 12 or Big East in a challenge similar to what the ACC and Big Ten do.

While TV exposure can help in recruiting, it didn't hurt Tennessee. Pearl signed four players in November, then a highly touted player in April.

``TV exposure will make it a little easier to recruit nationally,'' said Pearl, who has been to basketball gyms in Akron, Ohio, and Las Vegas in recent days.

``And our football CBS contract helps. We're the only national game on CBS that time slot. That makes a difference. It helps us in basketball.

``I'm out here in Vegas and because of our access (with ESPN) and what we did during the season, our level of recognition is 10 times what it was (last year). It's opened more doors. Does that mean we get more kids? I don't know. But it gets me in more homes.''


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