USC/UCLA move to Big Ten leaves Utah college sports with uncertainty

Jun 30, 2022, 9:45 PM | Updated: Jul 1, 2022, 6:45 am

SALT LAKE CITY — It was just two out-of-state schools announcing a change in athletic conference affiliation.

And yet it wasn’t just two.

It was USC and UCLA, two flagship programs of the Pac-12 announcing their intentions to leave their long membership with the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten, a power conference soon to sport universities from California to New Jersey.

The news that broke Thursday afternoon quickly dominated social media and the traditional airwaves, including on the KSL Sports Zone, where hosts Scott Mitchell and Alex Kirry couldn’t help but acknowledge the weight of the move.

“This affects Utah significantly and on a bigger scale I think it’s ultimately going to affect BYU,” Kirry said as the two broadcasted remotely in Midvale.

For University of Utah fans, the move by USC and UCLA signaled uncertainty and potential instability in the Pac-12’s future.

For Brigham Young University, fans couldn’t help but wonder how that school, a recent addition to the Power 5 Big 12, might be impacted by the next dominoes to fall, whatever those may be.

For Utah State University, fans could point to another move separating the financial “haves” of collegiate sports from the “have nots.”

“College athletics with the transfer portal, with name, image and likeness deals, and now the shifting of conferences—it’s like you’re experiencing, you know, a 7.5 (magnitude) earthquake,” said Val Hale, a former BYU athletic director and also a former executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “It’s just creating more anxiety for fans and for coaches and athletic directors.”

Hale said there had been discussions for 30 years about the eventuality of four mega conferences.

“When they first started talking about it, it didn’t seem possible,” Hale told KSL TV. “With the recent events, the SEC continuing to grow, the Big 12 addition and now this — with these two powerful schools in Southern California going to the Big Ten — that may be where we end up, so the whole face of intercollegiate athletics is changing dramatically.”

Hale said beyond the obvious ramifications for athletic programs in the state, the move presented wider-reaching implications, including for college prestige and local economies, for which BYU, Utah and Utah State have served as “major drivers.”

Even recruiting talent to local job sectors could be impacted if the perception emerges that Utah colleges don’t compete at the highest levels, Hale acknowledged.

“They like to talk about, ‘hey, we’ve got a major college program here and it’s in this conference,’” Hale said.

Late Thursday, the University of Utah issued a joint statement from president Taylor Randall and director of athletics Mark Harlan.

“At the University of Utah, we are very confident in the strength and trajectory of our institution and our athletics programs, coming off another elite year of academic performance, a Pac-12 championship season in football and our most successful year, collectively, across all of our sports since joining the conference in 2011,” the statement read. “We have been in frequent communication with one another since this information came to light, and we will continue to stay in close communication with Conference leadership and our fellow Conference members as developments unfold.”

Kirry went as far as to call it a “bad news day” for the local schools and fans, noting the potential implications of further shifting in college sports.

“(If) you’re a Utah, you’re a BYU, you’re a Utah State, you don’t move the needle when it comes to a national presence,” Mitchell said.  “If you’re not a big market team, you’re not a traditional power, you’re going to get left out.”

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USC/UCLA move to Big Ten leaves Utah college sports with uncertainty