Utes worked hard to make Pac-10 dream come true

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Today Utah will accept an invitation to the Pac-10 and make rumors official.

This is huge for the Ute community, its athletic program, coaches and players. It is a signal in college football that one of the non-elite, non-automatic qualifiers has been accepted and included.

It will mean a significant increase in TV and BCS revenue, something along the lines of at least 10 times what Utah realized during its days with the MWC. Utah should go, has to go and needed to make this key and pivotal move.

It will also give a lot of non-automatic qualifying football programs like Boise State, BYU and TCU a chance to declare to Congress and other key observers that one of their own can step up and compete if given the chance.

With USC facing huge NCAA sanctions, Colorado struggling, UCLA and Washington trying to regain some momentum in football, the Utes should instantly fit in.

This is also an opportunity for me to admit I was wrong. As a rumored Pac-10 move to include Utah has bounced around for at least two years, I didn't bite. Now, it bit me because around lunchtime today, the Utes are in fact headed for a BCS conference, the lofty Pac-10.

This is a time to praise the work of Dr. Chris Hill, the Ute athletic director. His tireless work in making the right hires, setting the correct tone, building the facilities and networking with the right people has fundamentally moved the Utes towards this day.

From two BCS appearances, the Utah venture into the NCAA Final Four in basketball, to up-sizing the capacity of Rice-Eccles Stadium for the winter Olympics, Hill's leadership has been unrelenting and the results show on this day.

This is also a time to recognize football coach Kyle Whittingham and his hand in building Utah football, the ultimate brand that the Pac-10 took note of. That win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl changed Utah's identity nationwide and many folks in lofty circles took immediate note.

Whittingham had a huge challenge in replacing a streaking college football icon in Urban Meyer. He had plenty of doubters inside and out of his program, many among Ute faithful. But he has delivered championship football and has gained respect from coast to coast as evidenced by Tennessee courting him this past year. His bowl record is remarkable.

We don't know what this move means for Utah and its relationship with the current members of the Mountain West. In a world that makes sense, it should change nothing. The Utes should be able to schedule any of the league's teams in a myriad of sports and those relationships could remain intact.

In the real world, there will be some scheduling conflicts in football and it is uncertain if the BYU-Utah rivalry game can be kept a November matchup. If this rivalry continues, or takes a break, it should find a way to work itself out in time.

In the best world the Utes could imagine, this move will enhance Utah's recruiting footprint, already solid in California. And with that, they'll be challenged to take on conference members head-to-head for the top prospects.

Utah will need to use this new-found fortune to add more sports to its athletic resume. Bringing back men's track and field will help. So will adding seats to the football stadium.

Make no mistake about it, this is a big-time step for Utah athletics and the state of Utah.

In many ways we can't even count right now, this will change the college sports scene in the state forever.

Things are not going back to the old days of the Skyline, WAC, expanded WAC and MWC. After the departure is final, BYU and Utah will most likely never battle for a conference trophy again in anything. That may be or not be a good thing.

We'll have to see.

One thing is clearly certain: Utah just took a giant leap forward.

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Dick Harmon


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