Utah's admission to the Pac-10 is a lot like discovering a 1978 Arizona-joins-the-Pac-8 photo at the bottom of a bedroom drawer.
The sleepy old league has changed. No longer do you go to Oregon and play football in front of 26,200 fans, or to a basketball game at Washington and see 3,024 in the seats.
That was the culture, and those were the numbers during Arizona's first Pac-10 season, 1978-79.
The Pac-10 is now a bad bumper-car ride. Do you realize Oregon State has been paying its women's basketball coach $400,000 per year? Or that 17 Pac-10 basketball players have been first-round NBA draft picks since 2007?
When Arizona and ASU departed the WAC and were absorbed by the Pac-8 in 1978, ASU football coach Frank Kush said, "We're going out of the bass pond and into the ocean to fight sharks."
The shark population has become an infestation. Utah's best sport, its best chance to compete immediately with Pac-10 heavyweights, is women's gymnastics. Alas, UCLA already has won five NCAA women's gymnastics titles this century.
When the Utes accepted the Pac-10's invitation last week, school president Michael Young not only detailed Utah's recent football success against the Pac-10, he announced the cumulative score (251 to 214) of those games.
In the spirit of the day, Utah governor Gary Herbert said: "I know the president rubbed it in about the scores, but we belong. We can compete. We can play."
I suggest this is a bit too optimistic.
The Utah football program reminds me a lot of Kush's Sun Devils of the '70s, WAC powerhouses that went 12-0, 11-0, 11-1 (twice) and 10-2. By their second Pac-10 season, the Sun Devils went 1-11.
Otherwise, the expansion of 2010 and that of 1978 have little in common.
The '78 expansion was driven by UCLA chancellor Charles Young and Arizona president John Schaefer and not by TV revenue.
In May 1976, Young announced he would send UCLA vice president John Sandbrook to Tucson and Tempe to explore the possibility of expansion. This time, the Pac-10 hired a Hollywood marketing agency.
Said Schaefer in 1976: "I've said on numerous occasions that I want the University of Arizona associated with the best in academia on a national level."
Didn't hear much about "academia" in this expansion, did you?
In 1976, Schaefer and the UCLA administrators completed their research and dialogue in about 10 months. This time, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott and his associates took what seemed like 10 minutes to invite Utah and Colorado.
The addition of Arizona and ASU met some notable resistance. Kush, of all people, didn't want to leave the WAC. "They need us more than we need them," he said. He was right, of course.
The old Pac-8 had no depth in football, played to about 55 percent capacity, and the basketball programs at Cal and Stanford were basically intramurals with scholarships. The Arizona schools immediately gave the league a buzz. Arizona soon led the Pac-10 in basketball attendance, and ASU was immediately the runaway leader in football attendance.
Academics drove the '78 expansion the way finances drove the 2010 expansion.
In December 1976, Washington president John Hogness said he would not ratify the UA-ASU expansion. The deal required a unanimous vote. "I've consistently said I'm opposed to the two Arizona schools joining the league," Hogness said. "I still feel that way."
Hogness also indicated that Stanford president Richard Lyman "didn't believe the Arizona schools are academically compatible with Stanford."
Whatever. On Dec. 12, 1976, Hogness and Lyman voted for expansion. That generated opposition from WAC commissioner Stan Bates. He sent a telegram (we're talking olden days here) to Sidney Woods, the president of the Arizona Board of Regents, saying that the WAC would not permit Arizona and ASU to escape its five-year football schedule commitment through 1981.
A few weeks later, diplomacy reigned. The WAC let go of Arizona and ASU.
Schaefer might have had the most realistic vision of Pac-10 expansion. Speaking of UA football coach Tony Mason, Schaefer said, "I don't envy him the difficult schedule he faces."
Mason seemed encouraged when he recruited eight junior-college players the following spring to help contest an imposing, welcome-to-the-Pac-10 schedule that also included Michigan, Iowa, Kansas State and Texas Tech. (Arizona finished 5-6).
Schaefer's classic response to the UA's first Pac-10 recruiting class: "One flower does not make a spring."
After two seasons, Mason was fired for a variety of NCAA infractions, including paying players for phantom jobs. In Year 4, under Larry Smith, Arizona beat No. 1 USC. In Year 6 it opened the season ranked No. 3 nationally.
The flowers finally grew. Surely a Rose Bowl would soon follow.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org