SALT LAKE CITY — Simply put, it was "a great day to be a Ute."
That's how University of Utah athletics director Chris Hill and school president Michael Young described Thursday's official announcement that the Utes will be joining the Pacific-10 Conference. They'll make the move from the Mountain West Conference in 2011.
"We are thrilled and delighted with this invitation," Young said at a press conference at Rice-Eccles Stadium. "This is a tremendous thing for the University of Utah."
Young later signed the necessary documents for league membership and handed them to Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott.
"I am thrilled to have the opportunity to sign this on behalf of the university," he said. "There really is an enormous amount of thanks to go around and just to reiterate we have great supporters, community leaders, coaches, student-athletes. Today is your day. It truly is."
A large crowd of fans expressed then their support with a roar of applause and cheers.
Scott told the gathering he was overwhelmed by the tremendous reception and thanked everyone.
"I am thrilled to have the honor on behalf of the 10 presidents in the conference to offer an official welcome to the University of Utah," Scott said after congratulating all who made it possible for the Utes to join the league. "This is truly a landmark occasion."
Utah is the 12th member of the expanded conference, joining Big 12 defector Colorado as the first newcomers to the Pac-10 since Arizona and Arizona State were added in 1978.
California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State comprise the rest of the conference.
"The addition of the University of Utah as the conference's 12th member continues to strengthen the Pac-10's goals of becoming the country's leader in college athletics," Scott said. "The University of Utah is a great academic and athletic fit, and we are thrilled to welcome them to the Pac-10."
The feeling is quite mutual.
"I have no doubt that, speaking for the entire University of Utah family, we could not be more pleased to accept the invitation to join the Pac-10," Young said. "The University of Utah will be a great contributor to an already great conference and this will be tremendous both academically and athletically for the university."
Hill vowed the U. would make the most of its new surroundings.
"All of us have worked really, really hard every day to have this invitation and this wonderful opportunity," he said. "I can tell you that we're going to work hard every day to make the Pac-10 proud when we're a member."
Utah's departure will follow one more year of competition in the Mountain West Conference. The Utes were founding members of the league in 1999, joining Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming. TCU joined the MWC in 2005, and Boise State will be added in 2011.
Young and Hill both expressed their support and respect for the MWC.
"We have very much enjoyed playing in the Mountain West Conference as one of the charter members. It has been a great conference for us to grow, develop and thrive," Young said. "The competition has been wonderful and the cooperation among the schools has really been extraordinary."
Young added that it's been a privilege for Utah to be in the league and the Utes are looking forward to one more year of membership.
"We want to thank them for being such a great partner," he said.
Hill, who also expressed his respect for the MWC, is hopeful the rivalry with BYU continues.
"It is my intention to have the rivalry continue with a tremendous passion," he said before acknowledging that there may be some complications right away because of scheduling.
The plan, though, is to not interrupt the series.
"The rivalry has been great. It's my full intention that it continue," said Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham, who noted that several such games across the country do not involve teams in the same conference.
That, however, won't be the case this season, and he knows it.
"We have a very difficult Mountain West Conference schedule and non-conference schedule looking us right in the face for this fall. We're not going to get ahead of ourselves," Whittingham said. "We're going to celebrate this today, then tomorrow we're right back to work getting ready for (the opener against) Pittsburgh."
Whittingham acknowledged there was a buzz around the football facility, however.
"They're excited. Everyone's excited," he said. "It's a great day for Utah athletics."
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn is especially excited. He grew up in Oceanside, Calif., and watched as many Pac-10 football games as he could on television.
"It's great. It's going to be a lot of fun," Wynn said while noting his appreciation for the MWC as well. "It's a great opportunity for this university."
Before the press conference, Young told Whittingham that without the banners in front of the stadium (honoring Utah's BCS-busting seasons of 2004 and 2008) he was sure they wouldn't be here accepting an invitation to the Pac-10.
"We hope we contributed to it," Whittingham said later before crediting Hill and others. "Football is certainly part of the equation. But it takes a lot more than that to make something like this happen."
The announcement drew several dignitaries, including Gov. Gary Herbert.
"It's a red-letter day," he said. "I am honored to be here to participate in this great, significant occasion."
Herbert later noted that the Pac-10 invitation is an indication that the state's flagship university "is on the path for excellence."
Besides joining the prestige of Pac-10 membership, Utah stands to benefit handsomely when it comes to finances. The Utes currently receive $1.2 million in annual television revenue in the MWC. That figure could eventually swell to well into double figures of millions in the Pac-10.
Scott, however, explained that it'll take the Utes three years to become a full member when it comes to revenue sharing. Colorado, though, has no such restrictions when it joins the league in 2012. That could change if the Buffaloes are able to switch conferences in 2011.
Pac-10 teams, Scott said, have a long-standing policy of equal revenue sharing with some exceptions based on football television appearances. The conference is exploring the formation of its own television network, but Scott noted that the league is still developing a business plan to use when broadcasting agreements are negotiated next year.
Hill said Utah isn't worrying about the financial aspects right now.
"That's not something we are concerned about today. It's about our affiliation with institutions that we are proud to be part of," he said. "It will ramp us as time goes on and we will grow into that. There is a challenge with competing with the Pac-10 schools economically, and we will get there."
Among the most immediate needs, Hill noted, are the school's sports medicine area, football complex, softball field and practice facilities for basketball. Rice-Eccles Stadium expansion and locker room upgrades have also been mentioned.
On Thursday, though, switching conferences was foremost on the minds of Utah's coaches.
"We're proud to be part of the league," said men's basketball coach Jim Boylen. "Obviously it's been a great experience in the Mountain West, but we're moving on."
Moving to the Pac-10, he continued, will provide a great boost to recruiting.
"We have great facilities, a great school, great academics," Boylen said. "But there's always, 'But coach you're not in the Pac-10, you're not in the Big Ten.' We don't have that anymore."
Women's gymnastics coach Greg Marsden explained that it'll be especially good for his team. They'll be in conference that sponsors the sport — and a really good one at that — with a regular schedule to work around.
"We're obviously very excited about it," Marsden said.
Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg knows what the Utes are getting into. He's had coaching stints at both Arizona and Arizona State.
"It's going to be great for everybody," Kinneberg said. "Every sport, as commissioner Scott has been saying, is deep in tradition, deep in competition. … It's the conference of champions."
As far as a timetable for Utah's path to admission, Hill declined to reveal specifics.
"I don't know if I really want to get into all that. Larry (Scott) is not a stranger. I've known him before," Hill said. "But these things happen pretty rapidly and things fluctuate."
Like a yo-yo, he explained.
The Pac-10 door opened for the Utes when Big 12 invitees Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech opted not to switch leagues earlier in the week.
If Utah is the consolation prize, Hill isn't complaining. He joked that he probably wasn't his wife's first choice, either.
Whatever the case may be, Hill considers Utah and the Pac-10 a good marriage — academically and athletically.
"Our culture matches their culture," he said. "We're as much like them as they are like us."
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