Remember when you were a kid and your best friend said he didn’t want to play with you anymore because he found a new friend that just moved into the neighborhood? Well boys and girls, Utah’s two best friends aren’t playing together anymore. Utah likes the bigger and cooler kids now and playing with BYU just doesn’t make sense for the football program anymore; at least that’s the way Utah’s Athletic Director Chris Hill put it when he left BYU off the 2014 and 2015 schedule. He tried to spin it as not killing the rivalry, but if it’s not dead it’s certainly in a coma.
The Utes and Cougars have met annually since 1922, except during World War II when they took a three-year break from 1943 to 1945. Now, one of the strongest rivalries in college football is in the Intensive Care Unit and it doesn’t look good. The Utes will host the Cougars on Sept.15 this year and again in 2016. BYU will host the game in 2013, but after that who knows? Hill made it clear no other games have been scheduled. He said he was “being cautious” as the Utes have “new opportunities” as a member of the Pac-12. That “new opportunity” is the Michigan Wolverines.
The Utes travel to Michigan in 2014 and host the Wolverines for the 2015 opener. Hill doesn’t want to schedule his Utes with too many tough teams and in 2014; the Utes play road games at Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington State. The home games are against Arizona, Oregon, Stanford and USC. That’s nine conference games with not one slouch among them. Add Michigan and keep BYU and you have 11 really tough contests to play. Hill knows such a schedule is not good for coach Kyle Whittingham, his program, or his players. Hill said his decision to take Michigan over BYU was simple, “We had to do what was best for our student athletes.”
In Hill’s mind that was sticking with his nonconference formula — play a top-tier opponent, a mid-tier FBS team which the Utes should beat and an FCS team or lower-tier FBS team that the Utes should annihilate. BYU and Michigan are top-tier teams so Hill viewed dropping BYU as the easiest solution to his vexing scheduling problem.
It doesn’t get easier for him in 2015, when Utah plays home conference games against Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State and UCLA and is on the road at Arizona, Oregon and USC. They also play Cal and Washington at places yet to be determined.
This problem isn’t going away unless the conference picture changes again. Face it, with the Utes in the Pac-12 they are going to get more opportunities to play top-tier teams nationally, which will be good for Utah’s program, but leaves no room for its old independent buddy BYU. From my point of view the rivalry is over.
The Cougars, media and fans have a different view, none of which is pleasant. The Utes are the big arrogant bad guys that killed the golden goose. BYU loses its opportunity to beat up a Pac-12 team. The media loses lots of copy during three weeks of hype before and after the game, and the fans lose the trash talking, the game itself and the opportunity to dress like crazy people and still get paid for going to work. Hill and the Utes have robbed the state of its BYU-Utah tradition — I mean every year since World War II for crying out loud! Have they? Or are they making really smart decisions for their football program? I hate to see the Utah-BYU game come to an end just like the next guy, but I can also see the Utes’ point of view and Hill “ain’t no dummy” Beating BYU is expected — beating Michigan carries weight.
BYU isn’t the only kid on the block getting snubbed. Hill told Utah State if you want to play us it’s in our sandbox. Utah bought out its 2014 road game with the Aggies for $500,000 to make room for Michigan. Hill made it clear after the Sept. 7 game in Logan this year you won’t see Ute Red in Romney Stadium anytime soon. But Utah State fits Hill’s formula for future games at Rice Eccles Stadium so that in-state rivalry should continue.
We had a saying back home, “Are you going to lie on the porch and whimper or go out and hunt with the big dogs?” I think Utah has made that answer pretty clear. Maybe BYU will get to play a game of catch once in a while — we’ll see. I’ll see you from the sidelines.