Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan Gives Insight On Pac-12 Media Deal, Kyle Whittingham

Jul 26, 2023, 10:18 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan gave the KSL Sports Zone crew insight last Friday at Pac-12 Media Day about where things stand with the media deal and his relationship with head football coach Kyle Whittingham.

Harlan was very candid about how the Conference of Champions has approached getting a media deal done from his perspective. Harlan also revealed a little about the inner workings of his relationship with Whittingham, his wicked sense of humor and the big year the Utes are hoping to have in 2023.

Mark Harlan Pulls Back Curtain On Pac-12 Media Deal

Harlan started his conversation with KSL about how things have unfolded for the Pac-12 over the past year since the SoCal schools announced they were heading to the Big Ten in 2024.

One of the prevailing rumors surrounding the remaining 10 member schools of the Pac-12 over the past year is that time is running out for them to secure a new media rights deal. Interestingly enough, Harlan talks about how the conference was forced to go to market sooner than they would have liked due to other’s actions.

The Pac-12’s current media deal still has about a year left on the contract which runs through 2024. Negotiations started in 2022.

“I think at the end of the day, when you go back to June 30 last year which was just a hard day when the L.A. schools left,” Harlan said. “I think we were pretty clear as the remaining 10 that we were going to work hard together and support the commissioner and support our board which is the presidents and chancellors. Just do everything we can to go out into the market. We didn’t want to go out into the market at that time. That was never our plan. Others caused that and it’s been a long journey.”


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Harlan continued by discussing how lengthy the negotiating process has been for the conference, but assuring there is positive momentum for the Pac-12 in getting a deal done.

“There have been moments through the whole thing where you think you are getting close and then things happen outside your control,” Harlan said. “I think the good news is where we stand today- we had about a five-hour AD meeting yesterday, there is a lot of positive momentum. I think we are getting close. I know that is getting old to everyone to hear, but I feel like there has been a lot of good movement.”

Patience May Pay Off For Pac-12

Later on in the interview, Harlan touched on the patience of the conference at the negotiating table and how that has opened up possibilities for the Pac-12 that maybe weren’t there a year ago when they first went to market.

“I’m probably more impatient than I should be at times,” Harlan said. “I think it’s the nature of what we do, but [Kliavkoff’s] leadership in that is really going to pay off. There were moments, right? Let’s get this thing done. We’ve had opportunities a few times to take that offer in to be candid with you, but I think it’s going to wind up paying off and we’ll see how it all plays out. I give our board a lot of credit too- they’ve got trustees and donors that are asking questions. I certainly get it too, but at the end of the day I think we are going to end up in a really good spot.”

Harlan Discusses Expansion Process, College Football Playoff

One other aspect of the media rights process that fans and media have been glued to is whether or not the Pac-12 will choose to add teams to replace USC and UCLA. There is also some curiosity as to how the expanded College Football Play Off will affect any decisions made by the conference to expand. Harlan went into some detail with KSL about what that process has looked like for the Pac-12 and the additional steps needed before any action is taken.

“The first thing we have to do is know where the media partners stand on all of that,” Harlan said. “I mean, if you’re not willing to pay for a new member- we are wasting our breath. At the same time, we’ve done the work. There is a tremendous amount of data we have poured over for candidates that would possibly make sense so that if we get in that situation as we close the deal with the opportunity to expand- we have the data. We’ll talk to the board about what we think as athletic directors and that is the next step of this process. I also feel like we can be very successful with 10. We’ve seen that in the Big 12 the last few years. Obviously, they’ve gone beyond 10 now, but they saw success. The CFP? That was a game-changer. You can get there; you can get two there. I think that was a big factor in our decision making too.”

Harlan Talks About Relationship With Kyle Whittingham, Utah’s Success

Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham is the Pac-12’s longest tenured coach by a long shot and near the top of college football overall. Harlan talks about his first meeting with Whittingham over five years ago and how their aligned thought process is paying off.

“He was probably the number one thing I was most excited about coming to Utah,” Harlan said. “When you grow up in this conference- when I worked at UCLA and when we on-boarded Utah into the conference and then watching what he’s done. To be able to come here and work with him- my mentor, Dick Tomey and he shared a friendship with him. When I sat down with Whitt in that first meeting, you know him, he had his list. Here are the things I think we need to do to get into that championship game and win it. Things like stadium expansion, things like keeping the staff together- all of those kinds of things and it made perfect sense to me. We were aligned real early on those kinds of things, and it’s been gratifying to see a lot of the things he said he needed turned out to be true.”

Harlan also divulged into Whittingham’s sillier side that isn’t always so apparent. At least not on the surface.

“He’s just so fun to be around,” Harland said. “He’s got such a wicked sense of humor. Sometimes it comes out in public- you can kind of see it. I give him grief about his motorcycle. He literally pulled up next to me the other day without his helmet on and I just kind of looked over and he looked at me and then he took off. We live right down the street from each other. He’s a lot of fun to be around and it’s been awesome.

Utah Athletics Hoping To Build Off Of Successful 2022-23 Season

Harlan has talked a lot in the past about how a successful football program leads to success in other sports and he emphasized it again at Pac-12 Media Day.


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“I’m a big believer that it’s really related,” Harlan said. “It’s one family- a one-team approach even though we obviously have multiple different teams. I think when there is success- gymnastics has always kind of led the way and football and skiing have always kind of been those three, but then the others want to get a part of that. I’ve talked to coach Roberts about this, I’ve talked to Amy about this- you want to be a part of that. You want to be in that head coaches meeting when we ask for updates and you want to say you’re in the top-15, top-20, or in the final weekend or two of post-season play. It all kind of builds.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on TwitterInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan Gives Insight On Pac-12 Media Deal, Kyle Whittingham