Utah, the Mountain West and the Pac-10

With the Pac-10 coming up short in its effort to land Texas and four other Big 12 schools — reportedly Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech — where will the league turn now in order to get a 12th member?

Chip Brown of OrangeBlood.com reported Monday that if the Longhorns decided to help keep the Big 12 together and bypass jumping ship that Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott would likely offer Utah a spot in the league to go along with recent acquisition Colorado. This would then allow the Pac-10 to hold a conference title game, as NCAA rules mandate that a league must have at least 12 teams for a championship game, and the league would then begin plans on the creation of a Pac-10 network, according to Brown. The league’s current TV deal expires in 2011-12.

If you’re Utah, this seems like a no-brainer, right? While Pac-10 teams don’t quite earn the coin as those in the Big Ten — roughly $8-10 million per year against the $22 million earned by Big Ten schools annually — the Utes and their fellow Mountain West squads in comparison garner $1.2 million.

Clearly, big money separates the leagues.

And with an eventual conference championship game and a big-money TV deal, the Utes would be riding high.

Utah’s resume is strong enough to warrant such interest from the Pac-10, especially when you consider its recent history. After breaking through under Urban Meyer with a top-five finish following its win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to close out the 2004 season, Kyle Whittingham took over and has not lost a bowl game at the school — a tenure highlighted by the Utes’ Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama and No. 2 ranking in the AP poll in 2008.

With the highest bowl winning percentage in the country among teams that have had ten or more postseason appearances (12–3, .800 win percentage) and a nine-game bowl winning streak — the longest active streak in the nation — the Utes are primed for a step up in competition.

While athletics director Chris Hill has said in the past that he would pick up the phone if the Pac-10 dialed his number, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that MWC commissioner Craig Thompson was told by Hill that the school had not yet been contacted by the Pac-10. However, Comcast SportsNet’s Bay Area affiliate reported on Tuesday that the Pac-10 will indeed extend an invite to the Utes and that a press conference will be held on Wednesday to officially announce the deal.

The last time the Pac-10 added new members was 1978, when Arizona and Arizona State joined the league.

While it remains to be seen if the Utes will officially leave, if not Utah then what other school would make sense for the Pac-10? Maybe BYU or TCU? The common thread: all three teams are currently in the Mountain West — a league that was thought to be positioning itself for a run at a future automatic BCS bid with the recent addition of Boise State. The roller-coaster ride of conference expansion had some MWC supporters thinking the league could potentially pick up unwanted Big 12 members to strengthen the league even more. Now, will the acquisition of the Broncos be enough if the league loses Utah or another one of its power teams, or will we continue to see the MWC fight an uphill battle against often inferior Big East and ACC squads in the quest for BCS bids?

While MWC commissioner Thompson wouldn’t be thrilled to lose the Utes, he believes the league would survive.

“Utah has been a tremendous member and voice in the face of the BCS,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We'd hate to lose those BCS numbers and it’s a tremendous school academically. It's one of the faces of the MWC. But could we survive? Yes, but we'd hate to have to.”

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