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A last-ditch effort to save the Big 12 appears to have saved Utah's chances of joining the Pac-10.

Once seemingly headed to be locked out of the conference expansion frenzy, the Utes now are thought to be the favored team to be the 12th team to join the conference.

The last spot in the Pac-10's efforts to expand to 16 teams was thought to be between Utah and Kansas of the Big 12.

Now, with Monday's announcement that the Big 12 will remain intact thanks to the prospect of a rich TV deal, the Utes have emerged as the strongest available candidate for the Pac-10.

Utah athletic director Chris Hill, who returned from Europe Friday afternoon, remains consistently quiet on the topic.

"Obviously, the college athletics landscape is undergoing massive changes and it has our full attention," he said. "As we have said before, we will not respond to the rumors circulating."

University of Utah president Michael K. Young was out of the office Monday for previously scheduled meetings, unrelated to expansion, and unavailable for comment.

Hill has made it clear in the past his school, while happy with the MWC, would be hard-pressed to turn down an offer from the Pac-10.

On Friday, Young said while Utah and BYU have benefited from being in the same conference as rivals, the two schools had to do what was best for themselves. He expressed a desire for the rivalry to continue no matter what happens.

"At the end of the day I feel a real sense of commitment to this conference," Young said of the MWC. "But every circumstance is different and you have to evaluate what is best for your institution, just as (BYU) President (Cecil) Samuelson does. If they got an offer from the Big 12 and we didn't, we wouldn't stand in their way if it is the right thing for their school and we'd think they'd do the same for us. We'd miss them and work with them, but we'd find ways to continue to work with them."

BYU wasn't seriously considered a candidate for the Pac-10 because it isn't a major research institution and now those tied to the Provo school believe the days of competing against the Utes as conference rivals are numbered.

"I can't imagine Utah saying no to the Pac-10," former BYU athletic director Rondo Fehlberg said. "It is every man for himself and Utah knows that, so does BYU. [Utah] will be gone in a heartbeat."

According to media reports, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe helped save his conference by offering a TV package that would earn Texas between $20-$25 million a year through a new conference deal and the school's own TV network, estimated to be worth $3-to-5 million.

The remaining nine schools would earn $14-to-17 million each.

The Pac-10's TV contract, which earns teams $8-10 million a year in TV and bowl revenue, expires at the end of the 2011-12 school year and enriching the TV deal is a key goal for commissioner Larry Scott.

However, even the current payouts of the Pac-10 team are much more than what the Utes receive in the MWC, where teams earn $1.2 million in TV revenue.

Until Monday's pitch, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were expected to jump to the Pac-10 while Texas A&M decided between the SEC and the Pac-10.

Utah was thought to be the backup plan to make the Pac-10 a 16-team league if Texas A&M went to the SEC.

Now the Utes might be needed to give the Pac-10 a 12-team league. Colorado joined as the 11th team Thursday. Theoretically the Pac-10 could remain as an 11-team league, but indications have been consistent commissioner Larry Scott wanted a 12-team league, the minimum required for a league title game.

Staff writer Jay Drew contributed to this report..

Staff writer Jay Drew contributed to this report.

Waiting for an invite

» Utah now is the favorite to go to the Pac-10 with Texas and other Big 12 schools deciding to stay put.

» Utah athletics director Chris Hill says it would be hard to turn down an invitation to the Pac-10.

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