The Pacific-10 Conference extended a membership invitation on Wednesday that the University of Utah is expected to accept today.
“The University of Utah is a very good academic institution with a great dental school, like ours,” University of Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said. “They’re a comprehensive research institution. I think it’s very competitive in athletics, and Salt Lake adds a very good market, and an easy market for us to travel into as Pac-10 teams.”
Spokeswoman Liz Abel said the Utah athletics department would not comment until after the school’s board of trustees meets at 11:30 this morning. A news conference is scheduled following that meeting at Rice-Eccles Stadium. And Utah’s current conference – the Mountain West – has called a news conference this afternoon following Utah’s announcement.
The Utes have competed in the MWC since that league broke away from the Western Athletic Conference in 1999.
Assuming Utah is about to change conferences again, there will be no shortage of questions awaiting the expanded Pac-10:
The most basic item is whether the league will change its name.
That could involve dropping or altering the reference to the Pacific Ocean. Or it could simply switch to the Pac-12 – assuming Utah’s acceptance will end the current round of expansion at a dozen members.
“I never assume anything,” Woodward said. “But I think that’s the conventional wisdom.”
It is also generally assumed that the 12-team league will split into two six-team divisions. However, there is no clear consensus on how to group the schools.
There is no obvious east-west division in a league that will include eight schools in the Pacific Time zone and four in Mountain Time.
However a north-south split would separate the Northwest schools from the Los Angeles schools. That, in turn, could deny football fans an annual look at USC, basketball fans an annual visit from UCLA, and all of the Northwest teams their annual appearances in the crucial Southern California recruiting area.
“I think it’s way too early and way too speculative to go into that right now, because we haven’t even had those discussions as an athletic directors’ committee within the conference,” Woodward said. “… When it does happen, I’m sure we’re going to try to end up with a situation where it’s win-win: for the institution, but also for the conference.”
The Denver Post and other media have reported that Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott promised Colorado a divisional pairing with the Los Angeles schools as part of the deal that lured the Buffaloes out of the Big 12 last week.
According to that report, the expanded Pac-10 will have Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and USC in a southern division, with Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, California and Stanford in the north.
“We do want to have a continued strong presence in Southern California, and our traditional games are important to us as boosters and fans and supporters as well as student-athletes,” Woodward said.
“We don’t want to minimize any of these traditions. But we also know that there’s give and take when you do expand, and we’re going to have to weigh those options very carefully.”
A 12-team conference would bring an end to the current round-robin schedules that had each Pac-10 football team playing the other nine annually, and each basketball team meeting each other school home and away.
No one expects 11 conference football games, and there is little likelihood of 22 conference basketball games, although Woodward said nothing has been decided.
One thing Woodward was willing to guarantee is the continuation of annual Apple Cup meetings with WSU.
Washington State athletic director Bill Moos was out of his office Wednesday, and could not be reached for comment.
Of the remaining 12-member conferences, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference both have members play eight league games in football and 16 in basketball.
They break into two six-team divisions in football, and the division winners meet in a conference-championship game.
In basketball, the ACC does without divisional breakdowns, while the SEC retains its divisional standings.
When Scott introduced Colorado into the league last week, he said the Buffaloes’ membership will start with the 2012-13 school year.
However, there are reports that CU will push to join in 2011-12, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Utah also wanted to avoid a second lame-duck season in the Mountain West. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
Pac-10'S NEWEST MEMBER: UNIVERSITY OF UTAH
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah.
Nickname: Utes, officially adopted in 1972 and used with the permission of the Ute Tribal Council.
Colors: Crimson and white.
Athletic traditions: The school competes with Brigham Young and Utah State for the Beehive Boot. The “Block U” was built in the foothills bordering the campus 103 years ago and is illuminated for athletic events. The student fan club, called the MUSS, does the “third-down jump,” making noise every time the opposing football team faces a third down. The Pride of Utah Marching Utes perform the “Utah Man Fight Song.”
Football: 605-420-31 in its 116-year history. Utes are 12-3 in bowl games, including wins over Alabama and Pittsburgh in its two BCS bowl appearances. Five top-25 finishes, including a No. 2 ranking in 2008 and No. 4 in 2004. Went 10-3 last season.
Men’s basketball: Won 1944 national championship and finished as runner-up in 1998. Nine Sweet 16 appearances. Eleventh nationally in all-time victories and winning percentage. Twenty-nine conference titles. Thirty-five NCAA tournament victories in 27 appearances. Went 14-17 last season.
Other sports: Only school ever to produce the No. 1 NFL and NBA draft picks in the same year: quarterback Alex Smith and center Andrew Bogut. Gymnastics team has 10 national titles. Men’s and women’s ski teams have 10 national titles. Women’s basketball team has averaged over 20 wins per season since 1974. Softball team has qualified for NCAA tournament 18 times. Women’s soccer has made the tournament five of the last eight seasons.
Athletic website: utahutes.cstv.com.
Prominent alumni: Pong inventor Nolan Bushnell, Pixar Animation Studios president Ed Catmull; “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” author Stephen Covey; former BYU football coach LaVell Edwards; Gore-Tex fabric inventor Bill Gore; Jarvik-7 artificial heart inventor Robert Jarvik; Marriott International founder J. Willard Marriott; two-time Super Bowl-winning coach George Seifert; speed-reading pioneer Evelyn Wood.
Don Ruiz, Staff writer