SALT LAKE CITY -- What now?
The ride is officially over.
Beginning today, the University of Utah is a member of the Pac-12 Conference.
From a financial standpoint, its long-term future within the athletic department has been enhanced significantly.
From a competitive standpoint, there are newer heights to be reached for Utah athletics, but with far more hurdles than it faced as a member of the Mountain West Conference.
With the obvious out of the way, on to five not-so-obvious events (in no particular order of importance) that happened outside the state of Utah that helped the University of Utah position itself and ultimately accept an invitation into the Pac-12 Conference:
5. The retirement of Tom Hansen and hiring of Larry Scott as then Pac-10 commissioner: Hansen was an old-guard administrator who had gone on record several times explaining why expansion didn’t make any sense for his league, in spite of the fact that several other leagues found expansion necessary to improve their product and increase market share. Of the six current BCS conferences, the Pac-10 had gone longest without any change in membership. New blood at the highest levels of Pac-10 leadership was needed, and the league clearly found that with ex-WTA chairman Scott.
4. Mississippi burning: Two upsets five seasons apart involving Magnolia State teams indirectly helped Utah’s case for being in a better league -- and both involved the University of Florida.
When Mississippi State beat the Gators in the 2004 season it gave Florida the impetus to fire Ron Zook and hire Urban Meyer. In 2008, Florida lost at home to Ole Miss, which was the Gators’ only setback en route to the national championship. Undefeated Utah would finish No. 2 in the AP poll.
Meyer’s departure gave Utah the chance to show its program was greater than one coach, and Utah’s runner-up finish in 2008 -- one spot too low, many argued -- also gave the program a legitimate platform to include itself in the conversation about programs that could take on the rigors of a tougher league.
3. The addition of TCU to the MWC: For all the criticism the MWC received – almost all of it legitimate – for how it handled the league’s television package, it has not received nearly enough credit for inviting the Horned Frogs. While Pac-10 expansion was never first and foremost about on-field performance (see Boise State’s “role” in the talk about Pac-10 expansion if you don’t believe this), it certainly drives public perception. The addition of the Frogs gave the league another perennially ranked team upon which expansion hopefuls like Utah could point to and say, from a competitive standpoint, that its league was just as good as other BCS leagues, including the Pac-10.
2. The “Top-6” rule for non-BCS teams to qualify for a BCS bowl game prior to the 2006 season: The tag of original BCS buster wouldn’t fit Utah if the current rules were the ones that were in place from the outset of the BCS. Today, the top team from a non-BCS conference that finishes in the Top 12 is given an automatic BCS bowl bid, and from 1998-2003, Tulane, Marshall and Miami (Ohio) all would have been automatic qualifiers. For Utah to position itself as a viable candidate to strengthen any conference, it had to build its resume with unique qualifications.
1. The advent and increased usage of DVR technology: As the public could record and watch television shows (and skip commercials) at its leisure, the value of live programming increased significantly. Sports fans best witness that increase in the number of record deals signed by sports leagues for television rights to their broadcasts. With a new TV contract coming up, and having seen the SEC and ACC sign monster deals, it was obvious the undervalued Pac-10 would receive a similar bump.
With two (or more) teams comes increased inventory, including a championship game in football and a bigger footprint for the league in sizable markets. Hansen’s view that expansion would only divide the pie into smaller pieces simply didn’t hold water, and the value placed on live sporting events by over-the-air and cable networks insured that the pie would be bigger than ever imagined.
Patrick Sheltra is a freelance writer and the author of "100 Things Utes Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die," which will be released in September through Triumph Books. Read more of his thoughts on University of Utah sports at scriptutah.blogspot.com, or follow him on Twitter @100ThingsUtah.
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