Utah athletics: At conference meetings, Pac-12 prepares for future

First Published      Last Updated May 09 2017 09:46 pm

Utah notebook » Unfortunately that future will still have late kickoffs, tipoffs.

There are two kinds of conference meetings: The kind where things get done, where votes are cast and legislation is hammered out.

And then there is the kind of meeting that the Pac-12 had last weekend in Phoenix. It was mostly listening, Utah athletic director Chris Hill said.

"It's interesting: We didn't have a lot of voting," he said. "There was a lot of background on a strategic plan for the league and what's being put together."

The self-proclaimed "Conference of Champions" is at a critical juncture as it looks toward a future in which it is already falling behind: Widely reported revenue gaps between the Pac-12 and front-runners the SEC and Big Ten are a mounting concern. After signing an extension in March, the next big thing on Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott's plate is to try to narrow that gap.

Hill said he came away from the meetings feeling that the conference has "creative ways" of holding the line financially, particularly in television distribution. Over-the-top providers are a big feature of the conference's push to heighten distribution. Scott will also be visiting Pac-12 campuses as he continues to develop the conference's strategic plan and get input.

A lot of this year's meetings were also focused on implementing new NCAA legislation that will be more restrictive of student-athlete time demands. Hill said the Pac-12 also worked on Title IX education, as well as instruction for how to properly handle accusations of sexual misconduct.

One thing that hasn't changed much: late kickoffs and tipoffs. While not a major problem for Utah football or basketball this particular year, Hill acknowledged that it has been an issue athletic directors are hoping to address to not make so many late nights for fans. But the Pac-12's television contracts aren't terribly flexible.

"There were some sacrifices when we made the deal with ESPN and Fox," Hill said. "We constantly hammer them about start times, but there is a contract. They can do those events at those times."

Hill upbeat despite change at top

The ground shook last week when university president David Pershing announced he would be stepping down within the next year. A search for a replacement has begun.

That's seismic news for any athletic director, particularly one with as much on his plate as Hill: The department has begun a study on expanding Rice-Eccles Stadium, which Hill views as one of its most expensive undertakings for years to come. The department also is working on building a baseball stadium.

All of these projects have hurdles that run through university committees and approval. Under Pershing, the Utes have built many facilities that have helped them adapt to the Pac-12, including football, basketball, tennis, softball, track and field and skiing buildings — a veritable boom.

Pershing is expected to be replaced late this year, or early in 2018. Hill, who has been through several presidential changes in his 30-year tenure as athletic director, said he's hopeful that the new administration will be able to work with his department as well as the old one.

"We have some things in the pipeline we think will be exciting," he said. "Anytime a new president will come in, it affects various factions of the university. If anything changes, then we adjust. It's always a concern. But we don't anticipate that will be a challenge."

Fitts, Bealer get additional eligibility

Last week, two different Utah sports got critical approval for extra years of eligibility for critical pieces of their respective teams.

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