SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah accepted an invitation to become the 12th member of the newly expanded Pac-10 Conference on Thursday.
“Today is an absolutely great day to be a Ute,” athletic director Chris Hill said before he was interrupted by applause during a news conference at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The room was packed with Utah dignitaries, boosters and dozens of red and white balloon bouquets. University president Michael Young made it official by signing the agreement, which drew another extended round of applause.
The announcement was fittingly held at Rice-Eccles, home of the Utes’ football program that has put together two undefeated seasons in the past six years. The Utes received invitations to the Bowl Championship Series both years in 2004 and 2008, but both were at-large bids.
By joining the Pac-10, the Utes’ BCS-busting days are ending. After playing one final season in the Mountain West, Utah will join the Pac-10 — or whatever the expanded league’s name will become — in 2011. There is a guaranteed BCS spot for the Pac-10 winner, but that will mean getting through a schedule of one of college football’s most prominent conferences.
Young noted that the Utes are 7-3 against Pac-10 football teams in the last 10 meetings, including wins over Oregon in 2004 and Oregon State four years later during the Utes’ two unbeaten runs to the BCS.
The leap takes the Utes from the Mountain West, where national television appearances are rare, to the major markets of the Pac-10.