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Utes slowly gaining on Cougars in TV interest

BYU beat Utah last Saturday night. But not by much. Which is, in a way, yet another victory for the Utes.

Over the years, telecasts of BYU football games have done better in the ratings than telecasts of Utah football games. Much better. When they've gone head-to-head, it's been pretty much no contest, with the Cougars drawing lots and lots more viewers.

Such was not the case this past Saturday, when the game in Provo and the game in Salt Lake City were on competing channels at the same time. KSL-Ch. 5's telecast of the BYU-Wyoming game averaged an 11.2 rating and a 20 share, while KJZZ-Ch. 14's telecast of the Utah-North Carolina game averaged a 10.3 rating and a 19 share.

A rating point represents 1 percent of the approximately 786,000 TV-equipped households in the Salt Lake television market, which includes all of Utah and parts of Nevada, Wyoming and Idaho. One share point represents 1 percent of those households that are actually watching TV at a given time.

In simpler terms, an average of slightly more than 88,000 households were watching BYU beat Wyoming; an average of about 81,000 homes were watching Utah beat North Carolina.

Now, you could easily argue that it says something that BYU (which went into that game with a 2-4 record and carrying the weight of two consecutive losing seasons on its back) still managed to attract more viewers than Utah (an undefeated, top-10 team coming off its first solo conference championship in decades and with aspirations of winning a slot in a BCS bowl game). And you'd be right.

But let's put this in some perspective. No matter what their respective records, BYU has beaten Utah in the ratings. Sometimes in a way that defies logic, like in 1996-97 when ratings for the 1-25 Cougar basketball team were twice the ratings for Utah, which went 29-4 and was ranked as high as No. 2.

Frankly, I can't remember a time in the past 15 years when Utah came this close to BYU in the ratings. The numbers for the Cougars are still pretty good — they're on a par with the lower end of BYU football ratings in recent years. But the numbers for the Utes are nothing short of great compared to past performance.

A difference of one share point and nine-tenths of a rating point isn't much. And, the way things are going, nobody would be surprised if Utah manages to surpass BYU in the ratings.

MWC WOES: If the Mountain West Conference wants to be taken seriously, maybe it ought to do something about the quality of its football officiating. It seems like a league game on ESPN or ESPN2 invariably includes some sort of referee miscue that's roundly ridiculed by the announcers.

You know, like that ridiculous fumble call on what was obviously an incomplete Alex Smith pass when Utah played New Mexico. Or the fumbles the refs missed during the BYU-UNLV game.

I know that all refs in all leagues make mistakes, but when a league is fighting for respect, it has to do better than average. Just the way Utah has to win all its games to get a BCS bowl bid while a team in the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, ACC or SEC can do the same with a loss. Or two.