Gordon Monson: Four options — two of them decent — for Utah in a ‘new world of college sports’

USC and UCLA’s Big Ten powerplay leaves the rest of the Pac-12 scrambling

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Tommy Eichenberg (35) tries to bring down Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) in football action between Utah Utes and Ohio State Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

There are scenarios for the Utes.

In a survive-or-die era of college sports — if that’s too dramatic, then a time when the option, at least for some, exists to settle for $20 million a year in TV money or $100 million — that’s saying something.

Utah football has come too far to crumble at the greed of USC and UCLA, as they grub their way off to that higher sum in the B1G. And there might be ambitious others from the Pac-12 on the grub, too.

There’s irony somewhere that the ghost of Larry Scott, the stumbling, bumbling evil spirit that gave the Utes advantage a dozen years ago, comes around to haunt them now.

At Thursday’s news that two of the Pac-12′s anchors, the ones in L.A., the country’s second-biggest media market, are headed for greener pastures — the kind of green with millions of Ben Franklin’s images on it — some were shocked. They shouldn’t have been. The Conference of Champions had tripped over itself with bad leadership for years, and those flagship schools had had their fill of that.

So they did what any responsible institution of this era would do — they screwed every other league-mate over to their own gain, heading to a richer, better-run conference.

In the aftermath of gaining approval from Big Ten presidents, the quotes coming out of the conference and the schools themselves are good for a selfish grin.

“The unanimous vote today signifies the deep respect and welcoming culture our entire conference has for the University of Southern California … and the University of California, Los Angeles,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said.

Which was to actually say, “The unanimous vote indicates how hungry our school presidents are for the stacks of cash that will be dropped by TV networks at their feet via one big-a media market.”

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond told ESPN: “College athletics is changing, and UCLA has always led in times of change. For the sake of our student-athletes, and for preserving the legacy of Bruin excellence, we cannot afford to stand still.”

Which was to actually say: “Since we can’t lead out in Pac-12 football, we’re willing to go get beat in the Big Ten for four times the money. … The hell with all y’all.”

Utah understands.

It’s the way of, as USC athletic director Mike Bohn put it, “the new world of collegiate sports.”

“We are excited that our values align,” he said, “with [the Big Ten’s] member institutions.”

Yes, they all love swimming in moolah. That’s where their values align.

The Utes get it. They did to the old Mountain West what the Trojans and Bruins are now doing to the Pac-12. Leaving for the money … err, the sake of the kids.

That’s just the way it is in college sports. Feast or be feasted upon.

It’s not that new.

Where does that leave Utah now?

There are four basic options/scenarios for a school that had — has — lifted its football program to the top of the Pac-12.

1. It can remain in the league, come what may, as the two L.A. schools bolt and the threat hovers that a combo-pack of Oregon, Washington, Cal and Stanford also leave and lead “in times of change.”

That scenario would be unfortunate, leaving the Utes as the kings of nothing, staying with a group that could possibly include Arizona, Arizona State, Washington State, Oregon State, Colorado and a bunch of new invitees, scraps from G5 leagues that might be decent football schools, but that up until now have been looked down upon by the league.

2. It could find a way to get itself invited to the Big Ten. Utes football certainly deserves that, the school itself, too. But, as the famous line from Unforgiven goes, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

Seattle and the Bay Area are huge media markets, and Oregon has Uncle Phil’s money and influence. Salt Lake City is on the rise as a market, but it’s not quite at the same level — yet.

3. It could head off with the Arizona schools and Colorado to the Big 12. That would be a strong move, the best move, other than finding a way into the Big Ten.

We all get it. With these latest happenings, a P5 no longer exists. It’s now the P2 — the SEC and the Big Ten, at least as far as football goes. Fox’s league and ESPN’s league. The other leagues are a notch down. But the Big 12, with this addition, would put itself in a decent third slot. In reality, it wouldn’t be a bad fit for the Utes, and competitively speaking, it might actually give them a more attainable shot at the College Football Playoff, whatever form that entity might morph into.

Getting back into a league with BYU would be a sweet little biscuit for football fans in the state of Utah, but, as was discovered two fistfuls of years ago, that isn’t much of a priority for the Utes.

4. It could go … what’s this, independent? This, of course, is an irresponsible comment just for sick, twisted humor’s sake.

Whatever ends up happening, the Utes will be OK. They will survive, not die. Their football program has reached a near-elite level, certainly better than most of the schools in the Big Ten and most of the schools in the SEC. And, as mentioned, the university is high quality and the market is on an upward swing.

The ghost of Larry Scott may have wrecked the Pac-12, but it boosted the Utes 12 years ago, and it will not ding them too badly now. Until the four super-conferences are officially formed, they’ll find a place to fit in, and fit in nicely. And, in their case, deserve actually does have something to do with it.

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