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Originally published Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 9:55 AM

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Pac-12 Networks is all over the place on Wednesday night debut

New Pac-12 Networks settled down after a bumpy first hour. Former UW football coach Rick Neuheisel provided many of the Day 1 highlights.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

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They've advertised the Pac-12 Networks as an innovation that will bring its brand to pockets it hasn't been — not only to your TV, but to your computer, your iPad, and your smartphone.

In other words, it'll be all over the place.

And, in its long-awaited debut at 6 p.m. Wednesday, that's exactly what it was for the first hour — all over the place.

There's no minimizing the ingenuity involved in brainstorming the Networks, and ultimately, executing its launch in less than 13 months from the birth announcement.

But the first hour of the debut was simply disjointed. It went here, there and everywhere, seemingly trying to pack every possible nugget of information about the league and its history into the debut.

It settled down in hours 2 and 3, devoted to a Pac-12 football preview and extended interviews with some greats of the league, like Drew Bledsoe, Andrew Luck and Alex Smith (at Utah, pre-Pac-12).

The launch began with some images of the most memorable football games in the history of the league — "The Play," of California-Stanford, 1982, the Snow Bowl in Pullman in 1992.

It shifted quickly to host Summer Sanders spending a few minutes with newly minted gold-medal Olympians Kelley O'Hara of Stanford (women's soccer) and women's water polo coach Adam Krikorian (UCLA).

Then there was a quick explainer of how the Pac-12 Networks will work, and where to sign up for them. Then, a promo by host Mike Yam of classic football games that will be featured on the network. Then a quickie interview with Luck. Then a drop-in for a few minutes with football panelists (Yam, Glenn Parker and Rick Neuheisel).

Then a fast couple of live minutes with Oregon coach Chip Kelly, an appearance by ex-USC great Ronnie Lott — who was pretty much dreadful in his cameo — followed by a three-minute infomercial on 2011-12 championships won by the league, followed by a two-minute interview with commissioner Larry Scott, followed by a live couple of minutes with USC quarterback Matt Barkley.

Whew. I was sweating at the end of the hour.

Of course, it's not easy to envision the perfect way to, uh, start a cable network. It'd be a little like covering an overtime football game at which a fire breaks out in one grandstand and the bleachers collapse in another, and you can only write one story.

Perhaps a five-minute overview of the networks at the top of the show, with Scott narrating the genesis of the concept from notion to fruition, would have worked as an umbrella for what was to follow. And then, a presentation that wasn't so busy the first hour.

If there was a star of the first couple of hours, it was Neuheisel, the former Colorado, Washington and UCLA coach, who showed himself to be as quick and facile behind the camera as a lot of us thought he would be.

Talking about Oregon State coach Mike Riley facing pressure this year, Neuheisel said, "Mike's absolutely professional. He will not worry about a hot seat. I'm familiar with how it feels."

When asked about UCLA, the school that just fired him, Neuheisel said, "I don't think the cupboard is bare. I was really excited about my chance to coach (starting quarterback Brett Hundley). Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way, and I get to hang out with you boys."

When Lott was brought onto the panel, at one point, Neuheisel waved two fingers and mouthed the dreaded "Tribute to Troy" song played incessantly by the USC band.

Lott clearly has some ground to make up. He called USC defender T.J. McDonald "one of the greatest safeties ever to play college football." Um, that takes in quite a bit of territory, Ronnie.

Then Yam and Lott seemed to obsess over UCLA coach Jim Mora, who, as Yam put it, "is taking over without any head coaching experience." Mora has a lot of head-coaching experience; it's just that it's at the NFL level.

The show morphed in a second football-only hour with Yam, Neuheisel and Parker, and Neuheisel was on the Washington State and Washington bandwagons.

In reference to Mike Leach's record of 10 bowls in 10 years at Texas Tech, Neuheisel said, "I think Leach makes it 11 in a row. I think they surprise BYU (in the season opener). I've got Cougar fever."

And on the Huskies and their early game at Louisiana State, Neuheisel said: "I think they can shock the world at LSU."

Again, Neuheisel was quippy. When one of the panelists mentioned the extreme firepower in the Pac-12, he said, "There's so much firepower, it got me fired."

Elsewhere, there were some sound issues early, as several times, volume rose and fell.

Notwithstanding the herky-jerky first hour, it was a big day for the conference, which also unveiled the Pac-12.com website, driven by what Pac-12 Enterprises chief Gary Stevenson calls "a project driven by a comprehensive master schedule."

"I'm still very bullish on it," AJ Maestas, president of Navigate Research in Chicago, told me earlier in the week. "I still believe it's the most successful (sports) network launch in history."

The Networks are available in 48 million homes, compared to only 17 million when the Big Ten Network launched in 2007 (The BTN is available in 80 million homes now, and Indiana assistant athletic director Jeremy Gray told USA Today last week that network "is basically printing money for the schools.")

The Pac-12 Networks are yet unavailable to those with DirecTV and Dish Network, among others. There's a belief both within the conference and outside that DirecTV will get on board.

"They will get a deal done with DirecTV," predicts Maestas. "DirecTV has always used sports content as a point of differentiation.

"If I was a betting man, I'd put the over-under at 30 days from the launch of the network."

DirecTV would be a big one for the league, adding potentially another 20 million homes. The guess here is that over the long haul, those prospective new customers will find this audacious enterprise well worth it.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com


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