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Brad Rock: Time for Utah Utes to stop celebrating and start doing in the Pac-12

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 6:39 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Beneath a clear cerulean sky, awash in sunlight, they lined up one at a time to have their say. Politicians, educators and administrators were thrilled to be there, proud to be associated, happy to be a part.

Pac-12 Day in Utah was everything you might expect: Cheerleaders, coaches, athletes, marching bands, dignitaries. Almost everyone who is anyone was there except, for obvious reasons, those employed by the School Down South. Notably, there were two others missing: Gov. Gary Herbert and head football coach Kyle Whittingham.

In Whittingham's case, he was on vacation. Who could blame him? He's been answering questions about the Pac-12 for, what, two years?

In any case, Friday was the last hurrah until the Utes actually do something on the field. Thus far the U. has acted a lot like a newly crowned Miss America — blushing, crying, fanning, waving, hyperventilating and blowing kisses.

The rest is a whole lot of work.

"With camp only a month away, we'll start becoming what we do, not what we say," said quarterback Jordan Wynn.

Friday's celebration was on the steps of the state capitol, which is where most major rallies occur: gay rights, abortion, veteran care, taxation, all the hot-button issues. You name it, the Capitol has hosted it. There were an estimated 1,500-2,000 in attendance on Friday, sporting enough red to staff Santa's workshop. Lots of block U's, flags and badges that said, "Utah, Pac-12 Proud."

The list of dignitaries was substantial. Congressman Jim Matheson, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker and a string of state legislators showed up. Also on display were the trophies from the Fiesta and Sugar bowls, which played a major part in getting Utah where it is.

But undoubtedly the most popular guy in the crowd was Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, the facilitator of Utah's success. Sure, he coveted half the Big 12, but settled for Utah and Colorado, which was fine with them. Colorado gets in a conference that is at least philosophically a better match. Utah gets prestige it only imagined and approximately 30 times the TV revenue.

Scott made it a point to note Utah's preeminence as a research and academic institution worthy of Pac-12 membership.

"Welcome to the Pac-12," Scott said, and added, "Utah is, simply put, a great fit for this conference."

You got the feeling he could have been governor himself.

Now all the Utes must do is provide reason for a celebration in six months. That would mean a spot in the conference championship game, perhaps the Rose Bowl. Scott even cautiously raised the possibility.

Far-fetched as it may seem, Utah has done equally improbable things.

It didn't get where it is by thinking small.

Athletics director Chris Hill called it "a great day to be a Ute."

Actually, there haven't been many bad ones since it was announced they would join the Pac-12. It's true there was that embarrassing loss to TCU in football and the dreadful men's basketball season.

But everyone knew there were brighter days ahead. Utah joins a conference with more combined national titles than any other, by more than double.

When Lt. Gov. Greg Bell rose to officially declare it Utah Pac-12 Day, there was another swell of applause. Dozens of red and white balloons were set free. The fight song launched and almost everyone sang.

Satisfying though it was, it was also a good time to end the celebrating. First was the gigantic announcement last summer, followed by a year's worth of press releases announcing something regarding the Utes' move. Almost every game was hailed by the media as the Utes' "last" in the old model.

Along the way came frequent and increasingly jaw-dropping stories of TV and Internet rights that Scott procured for the Pac-12. All of which played into Utah's day of euphoria. Scott reiterated that he expects a long and prosperous relationship with the U.

But maybe the best news was that after a year of anticipation, there's no more celebrating to do. Utah has been living the way a person does after landing a great new job.

It's wonderful to brag about.

After that, it's mostly about the results.

email: rock@desnews.com

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