Utah becomes Pac-10’s consolation prize

The Pac-10 Conference has added Utah as its 12th member. It’s a move that became necessary, and relatively obvious, once the Big Ten and the Big 12 all decided to stay together, and now Utah has its BCS shot.

The biggest screamer in the fight to make the non-BCS conferences part of the equation, Utah will get its chance to take matters into its own hands. The school and the football program wanted to be big time, and now it’ll get to prove it by playing in a BCS league. Albeit a mid-level one.

The Pac 10 and commissioner Larry Scott shot for the stars by sending an invitation to Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, and as of Monday morning there appeared to be a real shot at getting at least the Longhorns and Sooners. The spin will be all positive and all happy, happy, but Utah is a disappointing booby prize for a conference that had some lofty ambitions.

If the league had just gone after and picked up Colorado and Utah without all the fanfare about the Big 12 South, this would be hailed as a good move and a step forward for the conference, as long as there were bigger plans for down the road.

However, with USC significantly weakened for the next few years, Oregon trying to reload, and everyone else in the league looking fine (but not anything anyone outside of the Pacific time zone will pay much attention to) getting the Utes and the Buffs will inspire a collective yawn. No one nationally watched Utah vs. the Pac-10 before, and it’s not like it’ll be appointment television now.

Ooooooh, the Pac 10 has locked up the Salt Lake City TV market … get ready for that type of snark, but it’s actually not that bad numbers-wise. Salt Lake City has the 31st-largest TV market and is bigger than Kansas City, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Austin, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City.

Meanwhile, Denver is 16th, meaning the Pac-10 has penetration in the nation’s No. 2 (Los Angeles), No. 6 (San Francisco-Oakland), No. 12 (Phoenix), No. 13 (Seattle), No. 16 (Denver), No. 20 (Sacramento), No. 22 (Portland), No. 28 (San Diego), and No. 31 (Salt Lake City) television markets. That’s nine in the top 31, which will be better as strong or better, at least by the bulk numbers, than any other league.

But it would’ve been nice to have had the Houston and Dallas markets.

This was another good move, but it won’t make the Pac-10 on a level, prestige-wise, with the SEC (keep your WE BLEW OUT BAMA e-mails to yourselves, Utah fans), the new Big Ten, or even the emerging ACC if Miami and Florida State really do start to regain the luster.

Getting the Big 12 Southers would’ve put the Pac-10 on par with the SEC, but now it’ll just be really good with an occasional flurry of moments in bowl games. As far as national TV packages and interest overall, it’s going to be hard to move the needle off what the Pac-10 already was.

For the Mountain West, losing Utah and getting Boise State is a step back, especially considering TCU might be quick to join the Big 12 if the league needs to expand further to keep a conference championship game. For the Mountain West, which last week at this time had visions of taking on Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Iowa State, and now is left holding a big bag of whatever (at least in terms of the BCS leagues), forget about an automatic invite now. If the league couldn’t get it with Utah, it’s not going to get much of a shot with Boise State as one of the lead dogs.

Again, though, it’s important to keep the realignment and expansion moves in perspective; it’s good for the fans. Maybe Utah bolting won’t make Mountain West fans happy, but this has become a power program on a top 25 scale. Yeah, Oregon State vs. Utah, or Arizona State vs. Utah, or USC vs. the Utes, really will be interesting now that it’ll mean something for the Pac- 10 chase.