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June 21, 2013

One parent's perspective on the Pac-12

In order to keep up with the other BCS conferences, the then Pac-10 made the strategic move to expand to 12 teams, creating a two division conference which culminates at the end of each season with a cash-cow conference championship game.

With serious financial interests at stake, it isn't hard to see why the Pac-10 invited both Colorado, formerly of the Big 12, and Utah, which was bumped up to BCS status upon its acceptance to the conference.

Having already been a member of a BCS conference, Colorado likely has experienced some slight changes, most of which are probably financial. However, for Utah, taking the next step up to the highest levels of athletics and academia, the changes are both numerous and varied.

Though the move centers around athletics, the jump to the Pac-12 is likely to have far-reaching, and perhaps uncovered effects on anyone and everyone surrounding the University.

While Utah officially supports 17 total athletic teams, the University offers 772 undergraduate programs and over 90 graduate programs to 31,000 students, all of which will have been affected in some way, large or small, by the move.

With an increased value of a degree from a Pac-12 institution, increased tuition becomes a factor and then begins to affect spouses or parents who are assisting financially and likely has a ripple effect into the student loan program.

Joining the Pac-12 is likely to have affected employees at all levels, including deans and professors and extending all the way down to temporary or part-time employees. These considerations are just the tip of the iceberg, and UteZone will examine as many facets as is possible in the coming weeks.

In our latest pursuit, we will seek to reveal as many perspectives which will merely be a snapshot of the larger picture considering the fact all involved, undoubtedly, will have their own opinion and experience.

With the high stakes that surround the highest levels of collegiate athletics, wins, championships, accolades and draft status can understandably take away from the fact that athletes are teenagers who transition into adulthood under the glare of a huge spotlight. Also lost in the chaos is the fact that these student-athletes have siblings, parents and grandparents who are heavily invested either emotionally or financially, or both, in the career and well-being of their student.

With that in mind, UteZone caught up with Bob Washburn, father of recently graduated former Runnin' Ute, Jason Washburn to get his perspective on how things changed once Utah joined the Pac-12.

Unable to see the every day changes from his vantage point in far away Battle Creek, Michigan, Bob was still able to provide insightful perspective on the matter.

"From my perspective, moving to the Pac-12 probably affected a lot of things that I wasn't there to see, but I'm sure they exist. From an athletic standpoint, talking strictly about basketball, I didn't think that the level of competition increased from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. But I did think that it put Utah on a bigger stage, and made everything higher profile," the senior Washburn offered. "There was certainly more prestige associated with being in the Pac-12 and that probably had some benefits that we didn't or haven't yet realized. [The move] was definitely a positive, in my opinion."

A seemingly, small, logistical perk stood out most for the elder Washburn.

"Out here in Michigan, we almost never got to watch his games on TV when [Utah] was in the Mountain West. So for us, moving to the Pac-12 meant that we could watch just about every single game, which was great," Washburn acknowledged. "That was probably the most obvious, every day thing that affected us. Being so far away, I don't think you can over-estimate the importance of being able get the games. It's one of a few important connections that you have, so it may seem like a small thing, but it was huge for us."

While the Washburn crew enjoyed the increased TV access made possible via the Pac-12 Network and other nationally televised games, one very large benefit was derived out of the move to a Big 5 conference. According to Washburn, its benefits will pay big dividends for years to come.

"The TV was big for us, but isn't the most important thing in my opinion. The biggest thing to me, was that Utah hired Larry Krystkowiak. He just has a totally different approach to coaching and it was perfect for Jason and for everyone else, I think," Washburn complimented. "Coach K's people motivational skills are unprecedented. I mean what you have in him is the beginning of a dynasty at Utah. I really believe it."

While no one at the highest levels of the Utah Athletic Department have ever confirmed it, Washburn feels strongly that Krystkowiak was brought in as a direct result of the move to the Pac-12, and again, supported the move.

"Absolutely. I believe he was brought in to lead Utah into the Pac-12. You look at his body of work over his entire career- he was a the competitor. He hated to lose, and he was three-time player of the year in the Big Sky Conference when he played at Montana," Washburn pointed out. "He was a big man in the NBA and played professionally for years. As a coach, the way he coaches is just - it instills confidence and it builds players up. He isn't the kind to dress a guy down in front of his teammates, or scream and yell or stomp around."

Washburn, who coached each of his children through their youth, continued.

"All year long he just kept telling his players to keep working and keep working. He's never been one to yell or scream or call names, and all year long he just kept telling the team 'I believe in you, I believe in you and I'm not going to give up on you.' That was the constant message," recalled Washburn. "Jason's confidence just soared and you could just see the difference in him. I think you could see the difference in the whole team."

Again, there is no direct evidence that Utah's move to the Pac-12 was the catalyst for letting Boylen go and hiring Krystkowiak, Washburn has no doubts about the chain of events.

In a round-about way, Krystkowiak confirmed that Utah's move to the Pac-12 had a great impact on his decision to accept the head coaching position at Utah, supporting the senior Washburn's belief that the move to the Pac-12, and Krystkowiak's hire, were no coincidence.

"Sure, that was part of it. That was a big part of it. It wasn't the only thing, because you look for certain things on a check-list that you kind of look for. You look at the community and whether a place is a good place to raise your kids and things like that, and those are important. As you get older, maybe those things are more important," Krystkowiak said during the 2013 basketball season. "But aside from that, you look to put yourself in the best position you possibly can. You want a challenge, and you want to compete at the highest levels. Of course, in order to do that, in this day and age, it takes money and backing. That comes from TV contracts and that sometimes stems back to what conference you play in. So it's important. It matters. Being in the Pac-12 gives you access to resources and support staff that maybe you can't access somewhere else."


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