Unsurprisingly, money once again ruled the day

The Utah Utes face off against the Oregon State Beavers last fall at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah recently joined the Big 12 Conference, along with Arizona and Arizona State.
Photo by Eli Rehmer/Courtesy of Utah Athletics

On Aug. 4, Utah and current Pac-12 foes Arizona and Arizona State motioned to join the Big 12 Conference for the 2024-25 season and onward, departing from the century-old, decorated Pac-12 Conference. This conference realignment is set to mark the second in recent history for the Utes, who recently jumped ship from the Mountain West Conference for the Pac-12 back in 2011.

In making this move, Utah will also reconnect with rivals Colorado and BYU, who announced their decisions to join the soon-to-be 16 team conference last week and in 2021, respectively. The Utes last faced off against the Cougs on the gridiron during the fall of 2021, with BYU proving victorious, and they could now see each other as a recurrent fixture upon each other’s regular season schedules.

The moves of these future Big 12 institutions and others were predicated primarily on dollars and cents. Cash rules and the Big 12 doled out nearly $45 million to each of its member institutions last year — third behind the SEC and the Big 10, which handed out nearly $50 million and $59 million, respectively. These figures are only set to increase, with fresh media rights contracts on the horizon, including a new $2.3 billion agreement the Big 12 inked with both ESPN and Fox last fall.

The Utah Utes do battle against the Oregon State Beavers in their conference home-opener last season. The Utes left the Pac-12 for the Big 12 largely due to a more promising media rights deal and conference revenue share.
Photo by Eli Rehmer/Courtesy of Utah Athletics

Utah and others did reportedly desire to stay with the Pac-12 up until its “last breath,” with the Utes’ athletic director, Mark Harlan, semi-comedically reiterating his school’s interest in remaining loyal only weeks before their departure. Unfortunately for him and other interested loyalists, a slew of debatable decisions by Commissioner George Kliavkoff and other leaders made staying inconceivable.

The possible nail in the Pac-12’s coffin came less than a year ago, when Kliavkoff, acting on the member presidents’ instructions, reportedly rejected a media rights offer from ESPN that would have put $30 million in each school’s back pocket annually. Kliavkoff was left pitching a near $20 million deal from Apple, rooted heavily in a less secure, subscriptions-based model. 

The Utes will happily pocket their increased Big 12 payouts and put them toward the ongoing arms race existing within college football and athletics. Programs are currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars across facilities, recruiting and more, all in attempts to keep their athletes happy and in place. Utah has yet to make any progress upon a proposed $61 million football practice facility, which was scheduled to open next fall.

Utah will also have the task of investing in and managing new, extensive travel schedules for all of its programs. Its 19 teams will be forced to transition from exclusively West Coast schedules to ones including contests in the Midwest and the South. The Utes’ primary revenue-earning teams in football and men’s basketball should handle these changes with relative ease, as they travel on chartered flights like most major programs. However, this isn’t often the case for all of an institutions’ teams. 

Thankful for Utah athletes, Harlan remains confident the school can work alongside the Big 12 in helping mitigate grueling transit schedules. In an Aug. 7 presser, Harlan emphatically reiterated the Utes’ commitment to protecting the overall wellbeing of its athletes. Utah currently has an extensive support program for athletes, including services geared toward academic success, career development and more.

Despite questions surely on the horizon, given the ever-changing landscape within college football and athletics these days, communications personnel at Utah indicated the aforementioned press event would be the last of its kind for some time. Sports like soccer, football and more will kick off the Utes’ final run through the Pac-12. Utah President Taylor Randall, speaking in the same press conference, stated his gratitude toward all those whom Utah had built relationships with during their time in the Conference of Champions, and expressed his confidence those relationships would continue and serve the Utes well as they embark on this new path.


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