Pac-10 extends official invitation to Utah

Athletics » Utes football looks to put BCS problems behind it as membership looms.
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The University of Utah Board of Trustees has scheduled a public meeting for today at Rice-Eccles Stadium to discuss and vote on the Pac-10's invitation to join their league.

The gathering figures to be a formality, though. It will likely be more of a celebration as Utah's dreams of joining a prestigious Bowl Championship Series conference have finally been realized.

The Board of Trustees meeting is set for 12:30 p.m. with a press conference to follow 30 minutes later.

Once official, Utah will become the 12th member of the Pac-10, joining schools such as USC, UCLA, California, Stanford, Oregon and Washington, as well as fellow newcomer Colorado.

Utah administrative and athletic department officials declined comment Wednesday, preferring to wait for Thursday's press conference. But former Utah president Bernie Machen, now president at the University of Florida, said the entire state should be elated.

"This recognition can only be a matter of pride for the people of Utah," said Machen, predicting Pac-10 membership would enhance the U.'s ability to recruit students from the West Coast and to tap its alumni who live there.

Longtime Utah engineering professor Larry DeVries contends that athletic triumphs in the Pac-10 can translate into institutional success on many levels.

"When you're successful athletically, donors contributes," DeVries said. "They also build a cancer center. They build a lot of things. Success breeds success. The success reflects on the university."

The Utes can leave their current home in the Mountain West Conference with no penalty and can start play as early as 2011, although the Pac-10 has yet to announce the academic year in which Colorado and Utah will begin conference play.

Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn told the Denver Post he welcomed the Utes to the league.

"Certainly it'll be an asset having another league member in the mountain time zone and the Rocky Mountain region," he said. "No question they've continued to grow and build their program to be in the BCS bowl games in football, the Final Four in basketball and hosted the Olympics."

Colorado joined the Pac-10 last week, becoming the first member since 1978 when Arizona and Arizona State were admitted.

By moving from the Mountain West to the Pac-10, the Utes jump from a so-called "mid-major" conference to one known as the "Conference of Champions," which will add to the national credibility the Utes have earned on their own with their two BCS bowl wins.

The Pac-10 has led the nation in NCAA Championships in 43 of the last 49 years and finished second five times.

Off the field, the Utes will profit from increased exposure by being in a BCS conference and will earn a considerable raise in TV revenue.

As a Mountain West member, the Utes earned just $1.2 million annually in TV revenue. Teams in the Pac-10 currently receive between $8-10 million, and that figures to climb when the conference negotiates new television contracts as a 12-team entity.

The question is, how much? The Big Ten and SEC conferences guarantee their schools about $20 million annually in TV revenue and the ACC recently brokered a deal worth about $13 million to each school. Pac 10 commissioner Larry Scott's challenge will be to negotiate a deal in a similar price range.

For now, the Utes aren't worrying about the details and are instead celebrating the move to a ritzier address.

Utah's departure from the Mountain West marks the end of its fierce conference rivalry with BYU, and to a lesser extent rivalries with new MWC powerhouse TCU and longtime antagonists like Wyoming and Colorado State.

Most observers expect the Utah-BYU rivalry to continue, though the annual late-November game could be moved to early in the season. Colorado will be Utah's designated rival in the new Pac 10.

Utah was long rumored as logical school for the Pac-10 to reach out to, but the move didn't become a reality until Monday when the Big 12 announced it was staying alive as a league.

Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were all expected to join the Pac-10 while Texas A&M considered a leap to the SEC. However, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe brokered a new TV package that could be worth $17 to $20 million to each school, a sum that coaxed runaway teams to remain.

Their decision left the Utes as the Pac-10's best option.

As the nation's 31st-largest TV market, Salt Lake City doesn't offer the Pac-10 as many households as the Big 12 teams would have. However, it does give the league a school known for its solid academics and research facilities and one that is gaining respect for its athletic endeavors.

The Utes have been to the BCS twice, winning the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and the 2009 Sugar Bowl and have the longest current bowl win streak in the nation at nine games.

While football has become the face of the Utes' athletic program, Utah is solid in other sports as well, meaning a transition to the Pac-10 should be relatively smooth.

Utah's gymnastics team, which has won 10 national titles, stands to gain the most out of the so-called Olympic sports because it has competed as an independent since the MWC doesn't sponsor the sport.

Finally, Utah's Pac-10 invitation ends the school's battle with the BCS.

Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff filed an anti-trust lawsuit and Sen. Orrin Hatch spearheaded congressional hearings after the unbeaten Utes defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl but never got a shot at playing for the national championship.

That all changes with Pac-10 membership. The conference is guaranteed at least one BCS berth annually and has a realistic chance at playing for a national title if one of its teams finishes the regular season unbeaten.

Utah to Pac-10

What the Utes gain: Exposure, a conference with a BCS bid and a huge increase in TV revenue

What the Utes lose: Conference rivalry with BYU, the status of being the 'powerhouse' in a mid-major league

What the Pac-10 gains: A 12th team necessary for a league championship and a logical travel partner for Colorado

What the MWC loses: With its two BCS wins the Utes were the face of the conference in college football, but now the league can no longer count Utah's BCS wins in its efforts to secure a BCS bid. It added Boise State, but is that enough for the MWC to warrant a BCS bid?