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Utah Utes gymnastics transition to Pac-12 should be smooth

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, May 15 2011 11:54 p.m. MDT

Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden sees only positives coming from the Utes' move to the Pac-12 next season.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News archives

Editor's note: This is the fourth in an occasional series exploring the Utes' move to the Pac-12 Conference. You can also read the first and the second and third parts of the series.

SALT LAKE CITY — For many of Utah's athletic programs, the move to the Pac-12 is a big step.

For the gymnastics team, it's a welcome affiliation with a major conference, but it's also kind of business as usual.

The Ute gymnasts have been a national power since the late 1970s, and since they rarely had a conference, they have always competed on a national basis. They've always met teams of the current Pac-10 on almost a yearly basis.

"We've competed against those people consistently throughout my career here because of the convenience and the type of programs that most of them have," said Greg Marsden, who just completed his 36th year as coach at Utah.

"We've never had a conference or had other teams that were in the conference, other than BYU, that are competitive at the level that we want to challenge ourselves with, so we've always competed with the same institutions that we'll be in a conference with now.

"That's the most exciting thing — now we're in a conference with those teams, the scheduling is going to be much easier because the scheduling is determined for us."

Trying to find top opponents was always a bit of a headache for Marsden because most of the other national contenders were in the SEC, Pac-10, Big Ten or Big 12, and they had full league slates plus a conference-championship meet, meaning it was occasionally hard for Marsden to engage them. He always managed, but it will be easier now.

Marsden also sees his team's new conference membership as a way to strengthen the Red Rocks' relevance to his own school.

"One thing that has always been scary for me is, if you're not in a conference, you're not as important to your athletics department," he said.

"We've continued to be important because we put people in the stands and get a lot of media coverage and that kind of thing, but if not for that, I'm not sure gymnastics would even still be here.

"Being in a conference though now, and a strong conference, I think helps that tremendously."

Marsden said there's no downside to the Red Rocks joining the Pac-12.

"I don't see any cons. I'm only seeing right now positives for gymnastics for us to be going into the Pac-12 conference."

Because Utah has always been a national power, it's always traveled coast-to-coast and recruited the world.

Marsden said, because of that, he doesn't see his budgeting or recruiting changing much.

"We were budgeted and recruiting to try to compete with the Pac-10 teams and the Big Ten and the Big 12 and the SEC, so it's not going to be as dramatic a change for us as it will be for some of the other sports," he said. "For us, it's not going to change any of those things. We're not going to have to recruit more."

Because he's having to recruit kids so early now, he has yet to see any real benefit from having the prestige of the Pac-12 behind him.

He does think that will come once the Utes are actually competing a Pac-12 schedule, but so far, the promise of the Pac-12 hasn't meant much.

And he says even then, it will have less impact than on sports like football because young gymnasts are pretty much competing for themselves and don't think about conferences.

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