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Utah Ute fans usher in new era during Utah Pac-12 Day

Published: Saturday, July 2 2011 2:05 a.m. MDT

Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah didn't wait long to celebrate its membership in the Pac-12. Hours after officially joining the conference, the Utes hosted a pep rally at the state Capitol.

An estimated crowd of 2,000 fans attended the gathering and cheered through remarks by Utah athletics director Chris Hill, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, U.S. congressman Jim Matheson, Sen. Orrin Hatch, interim university President Lorris Betz, student body president Neela Pack and Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.

The 30-minute program ended with Bell's official declaration of "Utah Pac-12 Day" in the state, the release of several red and white balloons and a rousing rendition of the school song.

Hill, who hosted the event, called it a great day for everybody.

Athletics Director Chris Hill, University of Utah Interim President Lorris Betz and Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott hold up a Pac-12 Day jersey during Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Athletics Director Chris Hill, University of Utah Interim President Lorris Betz and Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott hold up a Pac-12 Day jersey during Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"It's fun. We didn't win a game today, but I feel like we won a future at the university," he said. "This is a long-, long-term effort and decision for this university and this city. I think it makes a difference."

The Utes and Colorado became official members of the conference at midnight. The first additions to the league in 33 years are now affiliated with Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State.

"It is a moment for celebration for the conference and it's great to see people appreciate the impact of it," Scott said after the gathering.

Scott received a rock-star reception from the crowd. Through his efforts, the Pac-12 has secured a $3 billion television contract. Additional income is expected through a new network the conference is forming.

Dancers bring spirit to Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Dancers bring spirit to Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"Obviously he's a very popular man in the state of Utah," Hill said.

The commissioner referenced the television deal while noting the addition of Utah and Colorado has already paid off.

In his remarks to the crowd, Scott welcomed the Utes on behalf of the schools in the Pac-10.

"Utah, simply put, is a great fit for this conference," he said while praising the university for its success in athletics, academics and leadership.

Scott attended the celebration with his wife and three children to "commemorate this very significant occasion for the conference on the day that we transition from the Pac-10 to the Pac-12."

At the conclusion of his comments, which included a reference to Utah's Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama in 2009, Scott presented Hill and Betz with a red football jersey with the No. 12 on it and "Pac-12 Day" across the back.

Lt. Governor Gary Bell speaks during Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Lt. Governor Gary Bell speaks during Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"It's a great day to be a Ute," acknowledged Hill, who added that everybody needed to give themselves a pat on the back for making the Pac-12 opportunity possible.

"I couldn't be happier, obviously, where we are," Hill said. "To align ourselves with the institutions that are in the Pac-12 is special for us."

And not just for athletics, he explained, but also for the university and community.

Betz agreed, pointing out that Utah's academic profile will be raised and research opportunities will increase.

"I truly believe that our entry into this storied conference is based on more than just our success on the field," he said. "It's an affirmation of the University of Utah by the other outstanding institutions of higher learning that are in this conference."

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott  is surrounded by the media during Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott is surrounded by the media during Pac-12 Celebration Day at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Membership has its privileges. Most notably, a massive increase in both revenue streams and exposure. Plus, a higher level of competition.

"We plan to be good members. We plan to be very, very successful," Hill said. "We're not afraid of high expectations."

Several Utah coaches and student-athletes attended the celebration, including new men's basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak.

"It's awesome. Take a look around, there's an awful lot of red here at the Capitol," he said. "We're heading into a new era."

email: dirk@desnews.com

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