LOS ANGELES — Utah athletic director Mark Harlan has had some time to process and examine the significance of the Pac-12 losing USC and UCLA to the Big Ten in a couple of years.

The Trojans and Bruins, who joined the league nearly a century ago — in 1928 — served notice on June 30 that they’ll be jumping to the Big Ten in 2024.

Due to that, Harlan’s summer has been busier than ever as he and the other Pac-12 programs adjust.

Harlan is both realistic and optimistic about the future of the Pac-12 — as well as Utah athletics overall.

When that shocking news regarding USC and UCLA surfaced, Harlan’s reaction was similar to the rest of the programs, and fans, in the Pac-12. 

“I was very disappointed. There’s so much history in college athletics and so much history in the Pac-12,” Harlan told the Deseret News Friday during Pac-12 media day. “To have USC and UCLA make that decision to forgo that history for a new path was just disappointing.

Related
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff just spoke about conference realignment. Here’s what he said
Utah picked to win Pac-12 title in media’s preseason poll

“I worked at UCLA and I was certainly surprised that they in particular made that decision. But you also have to respect and honor that those two had to make decisions for whatever their reasons were. You move forward. Certainly, it was a tough day.”

But Harlan has a message for Utah fans that have been experiencing angst and beset by questions about the future of the program. 

There have been countless rumors, reports and speculation about additional realignment, including the possibility of Utah, and other Pac-12 programs, moving to the Big 12. But Harlan insisted that the 10 remaining programs are focused on making the Pac-12 as strong as it can be.

“I think what we have to do is all realize that there are 10 great institutions that are very aligned as we move forward into this new dynamic. We have met twice a week with our presidents and chancellors since this moment happened,” Harlan said. “The athletic directors even more.

“One thing is very clear — the data is very evident that staying together is a very good option for us. As such, with the board authorized to explore expansion, going through that process as well, there’s a lot of value. 

“We certainly know that we lost value with those schools. There’s no denying that. But we know there’s a lot of great value with what we have and there’s a lot of great value out there that we can certainly explore,” he added. “Right now, we’re triggering the incumbents, our media rights holders, and we’re going through that process.

“It is a process. It’s going to take some time. I’ve tried to make sure that when I talk to people about this I remind them that nothing’s imminent. It’s going to take, as (commissioner George Kliavkoff) said, a few months to go through that process.”

Related
Utes won’t sneak up on Pac-12 foes in 2022
Six Utes named to All-Pac-12 preseason first team

Harlan reiterated that the 10 remaining schools are on the same page. 

“We’re very unified. We had another athletic director meeting yesterday. We all spoke very candidly about where things stand,” he said. “One thing we’re really blessed with is having a lot of data we can look at, a lot of media value — going back seven or eight years to every football game that’s been on television and how many eyeballs that have been on that.

“One thing that’s clear is the value of the 10, even with the two that are leaving, is very strong. We’re in the West Coast and we’re in some incredible cities. It makes a lot of sense for us all to stay together as we go through this process. That’s what we’re planning to do at Utah.”