Utah Celebrates as Pac-10 Membership Becomes Reality
The Utes have indeed been waiting, wishing and hoping for years to be invited to the Pac-10. When university president Michael Young signed the Pac-10's official invitation in front of several hundred boosters, coaches, students and supporters on Thursday afternoon at Rice-Eccels Stadium, the room erupted in cheers and applause.
As the 45-minute press conference ended, the students who were looking down on the proceedings from the fifth-floor balcony broke in a spontaneous version of the Utah fight song.
The dream comes true sooner rather than later.
Utah will begin playing in the Pac-10 in the 2011-2012 season, a development that was something of a surprise. At the announcement of Colorado's inclusion last week, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott (above) said the Buffaloes would join the league in 2012. But Colorado's arrival could be moved up as well, Scott said.
Hill said he was not interested in being "a lame duck."
"I don't think that's good for anybody. It's that simple. Everybody is ready to move on, the Mountain West is ready to move on," Hill said.
So Utah will come aboard a year earlier than originally planned, but will not begin to share in the conference revenues until the new Pac-10 TV deal takes effect in 2012.
Hill admitted Thursday that he was "exhausted" by the machinations of the past two weeks, watching helplessly as Scott extended invitations to six Big 12 schools. Had Scott succeeded in luring Texas and friends to the Pac-10, Utah would have been cut out the picture.
Hill was on a long-planned European vacation with his wife as the situation involving the Pac-10, the Big 12 and the Big Ten changed rapidly.
"I was up at midnight because I knew it was 4 o'clock here," Hill said. "It had the unfortunate situation to have an international cell phone that actually worked. I can't tell you how many athletic directors I talked to during that time from a variety of places. Yeah, I was more in touch than I wanted to be."
Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham (right) said his approach was just to "tune it all out" even as people called and stopped by his office with the latest news.
"It just got so ridiculous," Whittingham said. "First it was changing day-by-day and then it was hour-by-hour. Things became so volatile and there was so much rumor and speculation out there. Without having any direct control, I just put it on the back burner and went about our business."
Whittingham said he tuned back in as soon as he realized the Big 12 schools (save for Colorado) were not going to get in the way.
"When the picture began to clear up, that's when I became interested again," Whittingham said.
Whittingham said his assistant coaches have already fielded "40 or 50" calls from recruits who are now interested in the Pac-10-bound Utes.
"People hear that we're in the Pac-10 and they want to talk to us," Whittingham said. "We've gone head-to-head with the Pac-10 many times and come out on top many times. But the majority of the time we haven't, it's because we are not in a BCS conference. Now that we have that BCS moniker on our shirts, we should figure on being more of a factor in these battles."
But Whittingham, who is 4-3 against Pac-10 opponents in his tenure at Utah, said that in his mind little else changes. Well, other than the fact that his team -- which proudly wore the "BCS Buster" label for its 2-0 record in BCS bowl-games -- is now part of the club.
Utah football should fit in just fine. The Utes are 19-11 against BCS teams since 1998, the best record by a team from a conference without an automatic qualifier. But the whole world changes for women's gymnastics co-head coach Megan Marsden. Her high-performing team was independent, competing without a conference affiliation.
Joining the Pac-10 means moving into the best women's gymnastics conference in the country and competing alongside the likes of UCLA and Stanford.
"I think all the coaches are feeling it today," Marsden said. "We are part of a prestigious conference now that will help us in recruiting in all of our sports. They have seven strong gymnastics programs and we will make it eight.
"I think in recruiting, it's going to be evident immediately, the minute all of this is on the news."
There was no mistaking the joy in the red-clad room. The only thing more prominent than the bunches of red and white balloons in the room were the back-slaps and hugs among the Utes supporters.
Both Utah and Colorado, the first new teams to join the Pac-10 since "The Deer Hunter" won Best Picture in 1978, have some work to do to get ready for their Pac-10 debuts.
Hill said his program has some work to do "to make the Pac-10 proud that we are there.
"I don't think we'd be invited unless we were ready," Hill said. "But we need to ramp it up and get it going. That's why we wanted to play (in the Pac-10) as soon as we could."