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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.
Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham confirmed on ESPN 700 that Kylie Fitts, who was lost for the year after the BYU game last year with a foot injury, would be returning for the fall. As a junior in 2015, Fitts had 7.0 sacks and a whopping 10 pass deflections at defensive end, and he's considered a key returner for the team in the trenches.
Meanwhile, the Runnin' Utes received word that 6-foot-6 wing Gabe Bealer would be eligible for the 2017-18 season. Bealer averaged 3.6 points a game for Utah last year, but started the final five games of the season.
NFL draft makes recruiting waves
While Whittingham hasn't been able to travel during Utah's spring recruiting period, he's been making calls while his staff is hitting the road. Utah has also hosted official visits in the month since spring football ended.
After getting eight players selected in the NFL draft and another seven signed to free agent contracts, Whittingham said the results have resonated with recruits.
"That part of our message has been well-received," he said. "We had something like 18 or 19 scholarship seniors last year, and to have so many of them in NFL camps this year, that's an incredible percentage. Recruits are picking up on that."
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