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SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff continues to pursue his anti-trust suit against the BCS, the University of Utah celebrated its entrance into the Pac-12 with a statewide declaration.
Gathered on the front steps of the State Capitol building, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell declared July 1, 2011, Utah Pac-12 Day.
"Utah has many assets to brag about, but certainly one of our greatest is the University of Utah," said Bell. "I felt the University hasn't found its right place for several years. This feels like home."
On Friday, the University of Utah and Colorado officially joined the Pac-12, with Utah transitioning from its winning tradition in the Mountain West Conference to the "Conference of Champions."
Commissioner Larry Scott of the Pac-12 welcomed Utah to the conference, saying: "I speak on behalf of all the institutions in the Pac-10 conference in letting you know how excited we are that Utah is joining us here. But equally exciting is your own unique history and successes that you bring to the conference that will make it even better going forward."
Commissioner Scott spoke of the pioneering spirit that has made the Pac-12 such an elite conference, advancing both academia and athletics. He welcomed the pioneering efforts of the University of Utah as a school not afraid of high standards.
"This is a university that's not afraid of a high bar and high standards," Scott said. "And I think Alabama found out about that in 2009."
Utah has many assets to brag about, but certainly one of our greatest is the University of Utah. I felt the University hasn't found its right place for several years. This feels like home.
By joining the Pac-12, Utah joins a conference that has won 442 NCAA conference championships in men and women's sports, with its closest competitor 200 championships away.
"I couldn't be happier with where we are. To align our self with the institutions that are in the Pac-12 is special for us," said athletic director Chris Hill. "We plan to be good members. I think we'll be very successful. We're not afraid of high expectations."
Additionally, Utah joins some of the most prestigious research institutions in the country.
"Not only do we get to witness our Utes take down schools like USC and UCLA, but we get to associate with these prestigious institutions as well," said ASUU Student Body President Neela Pack. "We our honored to be recognized as champions on the field and in the classroom."
Although Utah has had a winning tradition over the years in football, many critics say the Utes will struggle to transition against a higher level of competition. However, Commissioner Scott believes the Utes will be better than many people think.
"I personally think they are going to surprise people," Scott said. "They've certainly demonstrated that with football, but I think they've got an impressive BCS record of winning games and bowls."
Junior quarterback Jordan Wynn is ready for the heightened level of play that will come as a new member of the Pac-12.
"I think there's a lot that needs to be done from us, but I think the whole country is wondering how we're going to be able to handle it," Wynn said.
"We've just got to go out there and play. With camp only a month away, it will start becoming what we do and not just what we say.
This is a university that's not afraid of a high bar and high standards. And I think Alabama found out about that in 2009.
"This is an unbelievable day for the University of Utah. It's an elite league," said Utes basketball head coach Larry Krystkowiak. "We're excited and feel a little bit challenged, but we're looking forward to the change."
The Utes will renew an old rivalry against Colorado, dating back to 1903. The two schools met a total of 57 times on the football field with Colorado holding a 30-24-3 edge in the series. The two schools will face each other for the first time in 49 years this year.
Friday's move to the Pac-12 is the first conference expansion for the "Conference of Champions," since expanding to the Pac-10 in 1978 when they added Arizona and Arizona State.