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Utah officially accepts Pac-10 invitation

Published June 17, 2010 10:43 pm

Step up » Utes now part of one of nation's most prestigious conferences.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Twice the Utah Utes have proven to be the little team that could, busting into the Bowl Championship Series to win bowl games.

On Thursday, the Utes celebrated the ultimate BCS-busting moment: they joined the club and officially became one of college athletics' 'haves.'

With whoops and hollers and the signing of an offer sheet, the Utah Utes officially became the 12th member of the Pac-10, beginning in 2011.

The move to the new conference was approved unanimously by Utah's Board of Trustees in a public meeting at Rice-Eccles Stadium in front of a large gathering of fans, government officials, school administrators and athletic department members.

"We are thrilled and delighted with this invitation," University of Utah president Michael K. Young said.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who was raised in Orem and attended BYU, called it a "red-letter day."

"Today, the university is Utah's university," he said.

The Utes, who are 19-11 against BCS schools since the system started in 1998, have finally earned their way into one of the elite conferences in collegiate athletics.

With the move comes more exposure, more money, and yes, more pressure to prove it belongs in the big leagues.

That challenge to win in one of the nation's six BCS conferences -- the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC are the others -- was embraced eagerly Thursday by the Utah athletic staff.

"When you compete for championships in the Pac-10, you compete for national championships," Utah athletic director Chris Hill said.

Utah won't become a full member for three years, a stipulation in which Hill said he agreed.

"We won't get any TV revenue or shares, maybe some other things; we'll be on our own for a while but that's OK," he said.

"I don't want to go into the league and in that first meeting take money out of someone's mouth like 'What the hell is he doing?,'" he said. "We understand that."

Officials from the Rose Bowl also attended the affair. Randy Dryer, the chair of Utah's Board of Trustees, issued his own indirect challenge to Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham to continue his bowl success by addressing the Rose Bowl officials.

"I'm not going to put a timeline on this, but you will see us again," Dryer promised.

Whittingham, who is 4-3 against the Pac-10, said he and the Utes were up for the task of competing in a BCS conference.

"It's a win-win for us," he said. "No question about it. It's a win-win for the university."

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott acknowledged there was disappointment he couldn't craft a merger with a group of Big 12 schools that included Texas and Oklahoma, but said the Utes were always in the picture for him as an option. Rather than as a backup plan, he described his two hopes of expansion as "parallel tracks."

When the Big 12 stuck together, he jumped for the Utes.

"We knew things might not happen," he said of the effort to lure the Big 12 teams. "That is why we asked Colorado early, to preserve what we have here today."

The Utes leave behind the Mountain West, where they have enjoyed nine winning seasons and went undefeated in 2004 and 2008.

They also leave behind arch-rival BYU in the MWC. Utah officials and coaches expressed a desire to keep the rivalry alive, though specifics as how they might maintain it were in short supply Thursday.

"It's my intention that it continue," Hill said. "There may be some hitches with scheduling that we have to work out, but we want it to continue."

Much is to be decided regarding Utah's new conference as well.

Scott said there would be discussions of a new TV contract, division splits and a possible name change for the league. All of those items will be addressed, but won't be as hurried as the expansion.

One proposed divisional alignment that could be gaining steam puts Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon, Cal and Stanford in a northern division, with USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah in the south.

"I am getting all kinds of proposals," Scott said. "I don't think we need to look at a lot of models and I don't think we've given our members a chance to express all the considerations they have."

He added: "As to whether we do a football championship or go and have divisions, there is no reason we can't have deep and full consultations with our membership, including Utah."

However, Scott said one thing is for sure: Colorado and Utah definitely will be travel partners.

"Absolutely, that is the DNA of the Pac-10," he said. "There were five natural travel partners and now there will be six."

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Pac-10 knowns and unknowns

What we know » Utah becomes 12th member of the league starting in 2011. It will undergo a "three-step process" to become a full member

What we don't know » A new conference name will be discussed. How the league will be split into six-school divisions remains uncertain.

Larry Scott's next task » The commissioner will focus on crafting a new conference TV contract in 2011.