The financial windfall alone makes the move a winner for the Utes. Soon, TV deals with Fox and ESPN will bring roughly $20 million a year to Utah and the other Pac-12 schools, and that's before the Pac-12 Network begins to flourish. By comparison, in the Mountain West, the Utes were making the sort of...
From the custodians to the football coach to the president of the University of Utah, the thinking seems unanimous. It’s easier to find a hopping bar in nearby Provo than it is somebody who doesn’t like the Utes’ move to the Pac-12 Conference.
“We’re thrilled,” interim president Lorris Betz said. “Uniformly across faculty, students, alumni, donors, the state legislature and the business community, we’re thrilled with what’s happened.”
The Utes’ name has been tossed out there for expansion virtually since there was a Pac-8 Conference, dating back to the 1970s. So when the Pac-10 came calling 14 months ago, Utah jumped on the invitation like an interest-free loan.
“I’ve got one of the best jobs in the country, and it’s getting better,” chortled coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s like I’ve got a new job without having to move.”
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The financial windfall alone makes the move a winner for the Utes. Soon, TV deals with Fox and ESPN will bring roughly $20 million a year to Utah and the other Pac-12 schools, and that’s before the Pac-12 Network begins to flourish.
By comparison, in the Mountain West, the Utes were making the sort of change that spills out in your washer — about $1.2 million annually.
While Whittingham talks about several football commitments he says the Utes wouldn’t have gotten in the first days after the Pac-12 announcement was made, Betz told me the school noticed a rise in prospective students from out of state, particularly California.
Then there was the evolution of a football training-and-tutoring center, which had been on the drawing board.
“We were planning a Mountain West Conference-comparable facility,” Betz says. “Now that we see what the competition is like in the Pac-12, we’re looking to build a more substantial facility. We’re in the fundraising stages.”
Utah’s future on the football field figures to be more immediately intriguing than fellow newbie Colorado’s, both because the Utes have been a force nationally — finishing 13-0 and ranked No. 2 in 2008 — and because they’re the BCS-buster moving into the big time. Or so it’s perceived.
“You kind of look at it as a payoff for all the hard work you put in,” standout offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom said.
Whittingham admits to having to find a new motivational tack now that the outside-looking-in shtick won’t play.
“You’ve got to find those hot buttons,” he said, and then advanced a possible one, saying, “There’s a bunch of people saying you don’t belong.”
Of all the recruits Whittingham has recently attracted, the best might be veteran offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who arrives after a mismatched tenure at UCLA with Rick Neuheisel. Chow returns to the state where he played (at Utah) and coached (BYU) for a quarter-century.
“He’s a great sounding board for me,” said Whittingham, 51. “He’s a wealth of knowledge.”
When the Utes began doing reconnaissance on other Pac-12 teams, Whittingham says, Chow “filled in a lot of the blanks. He knows the league inside and out.”
With Chow’s arrival, the Utes will scrap the spread offense that Urban Meyer popularized there and put quarterback Jordan Wynn under center, where he played almost exclusively in high school.
But there could be some acclimatization for Wynn, because he sat out Chow’s first spring with the Utes after shoulder surgery.
Wynn, a 6-foot-1, 201-pound junior, is one of seven offensive starters returning, to go with five on defense. They’ll try to sustain the success of a program that boasts a 2-0 record in BCS bowl games, and a 22-12 record against BCS teams since 1998.
The school is also touting a 98 percent renewal rate on its capped season-ticket base of 32,000, which Whittingham calls “virtually unheard-of.”
It’s that other 2 percent, the dropouts, that might be the bigger story.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org