Top 10 sports stories: Utes, Cougars and all that Jazz, etc.

Published: Saturday, Jan. 1 2011 10:20 p.m. MST

(from lef) Randy Dryer, who leads the Board of Regents of the University of Utah, University President Michael Young, U of U Athletic Director Chris Hill and PAC-10 Commissioner Larry Scott have a laugh at the Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, June, 17, 2010. Mike Terry, Deseret News

Mike Terry, Deseret News

This was the summer of football conference discontent.

The landslide that changed the landscape of college football began with a simple shift — rumblings of unrest in the Big 12.

Six months later, aftershocks of conference changes — motivated mostly by football — are still being felt.

Utah moving to the Pac-12, BYU striking out on its own in football, TCU heading to the Big East and the Mountain West Conference luring four of the Western Athletic Conference's best schools, including Boise State, was hands down 2010's biggest sports story in Utah.

The saga captivated attention and consumed conversations daily as local schools waited for invitations, passed up other offers and were passed over by BCS conferences.

But just as in Shakespeare's Richard III, the angst of early summer quickly gave way to celebrations, as the University of Utah joined the Pac-12 and BYU opted for independence in football and aligned with the West Coast Conference for other sports.

Once on the outside looking in, Utah now owns a spot in an automatic qualifying conference, and BYU is poised to make more money and receive more national exposure for its storied football program.

Worries about demise of the rivalry, considered one of the country's best, were put to rest when officials from both schools announced a plan to play the game earlier in the season — at least for the next few seasons.

The moves dramatically changed college athletics at both universities for years to come.

When the rumors of dissatisfaction in the Big 12 reached Pac-10 (now Pac-12) commissioner Larry Scott, he made a bold move — he tried to persuade a handful of the Big 12's most influential football schools to join the Pac-10 and form a 16-team super league. It ultimately failed, but it was a plan that fueled plotting in numerous conferences and rivaled the best soap operas for drama.

It was June 10 that the dominoes started to officially fall.

First, Colorado announced it would accept an invitation to leave the Big 12 for the Pac-10. A day later, Nebraska announced it would leave the Big 12 as well, but the Cornhuskers chose to join the Big 10.

The Big 12, one of the most powerful football conferences in the country for the past 14 years, appeared to be crumbling.

Then the dominoes fell closer to home. On June 11, Boise State announced it was leaving the WAC for the Mountain West Conference. Celebrations that the conference was now strong enough to earn automatic qualifying status from the BCS, however, were short lived.

Just days later, Utah officially announced it was leaving the MWC for the Pac-10.

Calling it a "great day to be a Ute," Utah officials celebrated the decision in a press conference on Thursday, June 16.

"We are thrilled and delighted with this invitation," said U of U president Michael Young. "This is a tremendous thing for the University of Utah."

While Utah administrators, fans and alumni celebrated their invitation, BYU fans felt snubbed and slighted. There was brief talk of BYU being invited to the Big 12, but a formal invitation never came.

Instead of crumbling, the Big 12 rebounded and decided to remain in tact as a 10-team league.

What no one knew in July was that BYU was mulling over a choice that few considered a serious option — football independence. The Cougars weren't going to stand around waiting for someone to invite them to a party; they'd simply host their own party and invite whoever they wanted.

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