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Utah Utes' sports move to Pac-12 is under way

Hill knows moving to the Pac-12 will take strategic planning

Published: Saturday, April 23 2011 8:48 p.m. MDT

Utah athletic director Chris Hill is busy and enthused during the Utes' transition.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor's note: This is the first of an occasional series exploring the Utes' move to the Pac-12, which will go into effect July 1.

SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah athletics director Chris Hill has been busier than usual. However, he's not complaining. Overseeing the Utes' monumental move to the Pacific-12 Conference on July 1 is just too exciting.

"What's interesting is I've been in a whole different world for the future," Hill said while noting that his job description is that of crisis manager and long-term planner.

As such, Hill acknowledged he's no longer in the Mountain West Conference mentally. His primary focus is the future and there's plenty to think about.

"It's full-speed thoughtfulness," Hill said. "It's full-speed planning."

Making the jump from mid-major to membership in one of the nation's elite conferences is huge. It's also rare. The last time it happened was 2005 when Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida transferred from Conference-USA to the Big East.

Utah's circumstances, though, are different. The Big East needed to add football-playing schools after losing teams to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Utes were invited to join the Pac-12 after the league was rebuffed in expansion efforts with Texas and other Big 12 schools. They're switching conferences at a lucrative time both athletically and academically.

As a research institution, the university stands to benefit greatly from its affiliation and collaborations with like-minded Pac-12 schools. The athletic program is also moving into a much more prosperous situation than it had in the MWC. Besides being in an automatic qualifying conference in terms of the Bowl Championship Series, the Utes' annual television revenue will grow from $1.2 million per year to estimates as high as $18-20 million.

The latter, however, will come in stages — reaching 100 percent after growing from a 50 percent share in 2012-13 and a 75 percent portion the following year.

The rise in revenue, however, is accompanied by a higher cost of doing business.

Hill and his staff, thus, are working hard to formulate and implement a strategic plan.

It hasn't been easy.

As someone who earned his bachelor's degree in math education, Hill understands that too many variables make it impossible to solve an equation.

There are several department-wide challenges and moving Utah's athletic programs to the Pac-12, he noted, has as many as six or seven variables.

In addition to the basics, factors such as which teams can be the most successful right off the bat; generate the most money; garner the greatest publicity; have the best recruiting base; and those with coaching staffs already achieving at a high level must be considered in making decisions.

"So, we're looking at the sports and saying 'OK, how do we chip away at this?' We can't do it all at once because we're going to have to generate money," Hill said while noting that it shouldn't be on the back of season tickets.

In every sport, he continued, every different revenue resource should be tapped. Things like fundraising and marketing have to grow.

"We're trying to move each sport up to make sure they have the resources to compete," said Hill, who explained that some teams may get there faster than others.

That's the reality, he added, as Utah prepares to join the Pac-12.

"I don't want to disappoint the coaches because everybody wants to win the league," Hill said. "But at the same time we've got to be strategic about it."

For starters

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