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SALT LAKE CITY -- After months of speculation, the University of Utah has officially accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10 conference.
"Today is an absolutely great day to be a Ute," athletic director Chris Hill said before he was interrupted by applause during a news conference at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
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Utah officially announces it is leaving the MWC and moving to the Pac-10; MWC announces it will not expand despite the loss of Utah and will remain a nine-team conference.
The room was packed with Utah dignitaries, boosters and dozens of red and white balloon bouquets. University president Michael Young made it official by signing the agreement, which drew another extended round of applause.
Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said the main focus was academics, as well as athletics.
"We wouldn't be here today if the University of Utah had not distinguished itself," Scott said.
Utah will join current members Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State along with Colorado, which made the departure from the Big 12 earlier this week.
Colorado was slated to switch in 2012, but the Utes want to move in as early as 2011.
"How does this change the program immediately? Probably recruiting. That will have the most impact immediately," Ute head football coach Kyle Wittingham said. "We fielded several calls last night from recruits that all of a sudden had a great deal of interest when they heard the news."
"It's awesome news. It's an unbelievable feeling in the city and around the university on a lot of levels," men's basketball coach Jim Boylen said. "It's just a bigger stage for our athletes and a bigger platform to recruit from and that's a big deal."
The move not only means a step up in overall competition and prestige and recruiting, but also a huge increase in revenue.
Right now, the Utes take in just over $1 million a year in the Mountain West Conference. With the Pac-10, that number is estimated to jump to between $10 million and $20 million with a new television contract expected to be announced.
In addition, Rice-Eccles Stadium is expected to be expanded and the locker room facilities upgraded.
Since 2003, the Utes are 7-3 against the Pac-10 in football, including wins over Oregon in 2004 and Oregon State four years later during the Utes' two unbeaten runs to the BCS.
In response to the move BYU Director of Athletics Tom Holmoe said in a press release, "BYU and Utah have over time developed one of the storied rivalries in college athletics. Utah's move to a different conference will certainly have an effect on the rivalry; however, at this point it's hard to know to what extent. Dr. Chris Hill and I have a very good relationship and will certainly be talking about this in the future. For now, we're grateful for the long tradition of athletic competition between the two schools."
Meanwhile, the Mountain West has decided to stand pat as a nine-team league for the foreseeable future.
Shortly after the Utah press conference, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said that despite inquiries from about 10 other schools, the conference will likely remain unchanged for at least the next three to five years.
The Mountain West had been linked to teams in the Big 12 North, but Texas's decision to turn down the Pac-10 kept the conference in tact.
With no other marquee schools to pursue, Mountain West officials decided to keep the current structure rather than try to reconfigure its football schedules for 10 or 12 teams.