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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah quarterback Travis Wilson (7) looks to pass as Utah hosts Washington State, college football at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday November 3, 2012 in Salt Lake City.
Utah athletics: After 2 years in Pac-12, Utes struggle to deliver
College athletics » It has been a struggle, but coaches and administrators see daylight.
First Published Jun 08 2013 11:41 pm • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:33 pm

Utah athletic director Chris Hill has his own version of that adage from "Field of Dreams." Build it and they will win — and soon.

With facility upgrades either in the works or planned for virtually every sport the school sponsors, totaling about $64.2 million in financial commitments, Utah’s transition to the Pac-12 is moving to its next phase — from getting spendy to getting competitive.

At a glance

Strugglin’ in the Pac

Sport Place Pac-12 record Overall record

Baseball 12th 7-23 21-31

M. basketball 10th 7-14 15-18

W. basketball 6th 9-11 22-14

Football 5th* 3-6 5-7

Gymnastics 3rd 4-1-1 20-9-1

W. soccer 9th 3-7-1 8-8-3

Softball 9th 7-17 24-30

Volleyball 9th 5-15 14-19

*South Division

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Two years into the Pac-12, the Utes are still languishing behind the majority of their foes in conference races. The closest the Utes have come to claiming a league title was when the gymnastics team finished second in 2012.

For the most recent season, gymnastics led the way again with a third-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships and women’s basketball had the second-best effort with a sixth-place finish in the regular-season standings.

The remaining teams were below .500 and finished near the bottom of the standings in the sports that keep official league standings.

While a few struggling seasons were to be expected as the Utes moved to a BCS conference, the impetus is on Utah’s coaches to start producing results sooner rather than later.

"There is no question everyone is feeling more pressure to win now than we used to," Hill said. "Everybody knows our challenges when we moved to the Pac-12, and they are great challenges, but we aren’t afraid of high expectations."

That said, what is realistic for the Utes? If longtime Pac-12 members such as Cal, Washington State and Washington have trouble competing against mighty programs like USC and Stanford, how long will it take for the Utes to get on a level playing field?

A sobering assessment

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A.J. Maestas, president of Navigate Research, a sports marketing research firm, projects it could take almost 30 years for Utah to even the playing field in the Pac-12 — not only in competitive results, but also financially.

The Utes will receive a 75 percent share of Pac-12 monies for the 2013-14 year, which is projected to be about $15 million. While those funds are a significant increase from what the Utes received in the MWC, Utah still lags behind its league competitors.

"They aren’t sitting on their laurels, but it’s like they started the race half the distance behind everyone else," Maestas said. "They are at a massive disadvantage, and you can’t catch up overnight."

Maestas believes the deficit affects "everything," from the financial books to recruiting to winning on the field.

Hill chuckles when he hears Maestas’ long-term projections. It might take Utah decades to draw even in the financial books, but he expects Utah to be competitive on the field much, much sooner.

"We are realistic, but we are intending to be good in some sports and competitive in all in the next few years," he said. "We know it’s going to be really hard, but it’s a fun challenge. We knew that going in."

Football is a key

The expectations predictably focus mainly on football, where Utah has gone from being an annual contender for Mountain West Conference titles to being ineligible for a bowl in 2012.

Winning appears an even more challenging prospect in 2013 than it did in the first two years, with nationally ranked Oregon and Stanford replacing Cal and Washington on the Utes’ schedule.

However, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is optimistic his team can make headway in the standings.

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