The TribUte newsletter: What is best for Utah amidst Pac-12, realignment chaos?

UCLA and USC announced their move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten, kicking off a new round of college sports realignment

(Rick Bowmer | AP) UCLA coach Chip Kelly, left, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham laugh before an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

As the dust begins settling on UCLA and USC’s landscape-shifting decision to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, there are an abundance of questions across the college athletics national landscape, but too few answers.

The big overarching questions regarding the Utes as the UCLA-USC fallout begins are: where are they going to be once the Bruins and Trojans leave following the 2023-24 academic year? And what is best for Utah?

Absolutely everything should be considered on the table given Thursday‘s developments, but for starters, might the Pac-12 (Pac-10?) stay together? The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday evening that “no other Pac-12 members are expected to be added to the Big Ten at this time.” That, at least for now, ends speculation of any combination of teams being poached by the, beginning in 2024, 16-team league. Oregon, Washington, Stanford, and Cal were all bandied about as potential additions during the day Thursday.

Does the Pac-12, with 10 schools, attempt to raid the Mountain West to fill the holes? San Diego State? UNLV? Boise State? None of the Mountain West options are particularly attractive for a variety of reasons, but it may be a case of beggars can’t be choosers, as it partially was last summer when Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12, which then added BYU, UCF, Houston, Cincinnati.

Speaking of the Big 12, another scenario could see Utah try and join the 26-year-old, Texas-based league, potentially with Colorado, Arizona, and Arizona State coming along to get it to 16 schools.

Such a move would ensure Utah’s survival, not to mention relevance as a school playing major college football and basketball. Although, even if the Big 12 did add four more schools, its prestige, not to mention media rights revenue, would lag far behind those of the SEC and Big Ten.

While the Big Ten does reportedly not intend to add more Pac-12 schools at this time, the term “at this time” is open-ended, and these things are always fluid. At a minimum, no one believes the Big Ten is done, so let’s assume at some point, the Big Ten will again add. How far back in line might Utah be under this scenario?

Good news: Utah is an AAU member, which has long been considered an official requirement for Big Ten membership.

Bad news: Oregon, Stanford, Washington, and Cal are also all AAU members, but with better U.S. News rankings.

Good news: If demographics play any role in this, and the Big Ten comes west again, Utah was among the fastest-growing states in the country at the 2020 census,

Bad news: Forget other Pac-12 schools for a second. What if the Big Ten lands its white whale, Notre Dame? Might ACC brand names like Florida State and Clemson get a long look?

What we know right now is that no one really knows anything beyond the rampant speculation outlined above.

What we also know is that, with UCLA and USC leaving, this will ultimately, in some way, affect Utah, good, bad or otherwise.

Other things on my mind

• This fresh realignment chaos has me thinking back to 2020, when everyone was trying to figure out how to play football with the COVID-19 pandemic raging. There was a “report” from a UCLA fan site at one point that said Utah threatened to leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12 if the Pac-12 did not play football. At the time, one source told me that “report” was “total b—s—”. Boy, life sure came at us fast on Thursday, huh?

• Personally, selfishly, I’m glad I got to cover a traditional Rose Bowl, Big Ten vs. Pac-12, because there’s at least a chance that American sporting tradition is going to end.

• Utah football’s next schedule opening is in 2025. After The Alliance between the Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC was created a year ago, Utes athletic director Mark Harlan, on multiple occasions, expressed his desire to turn that 2025 opening into a matchup with a team from one of the other Alliance leagues. With that non-binding gentlemen’s agreement all but dead in the wake of Thursday’s bombshell, that 2025 opening will have to be filled elsewhere, but where? Utah is at Wyoming and at BYU in 2025, so the Utes will be looking for a home game. With those two matchups already on the books, don’t be surprised if an FCS opponent shows up at Rice-Eccles Stadium to fill that third spot.

Utah basketball has had trouble navigating the Pac-12 in recent years, no imagine trying to navigate a Big 12 with Kansas, Baylor, Arizona, Texas Tech, and West Virginia.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.