Reactions to the announcement that BYU and Utah will not be playing football against each other in 2014-15 were varied across both fan bases. Most reaction was anger pointed at the other side of the aisle, as is, I suppose, our human tendency. We all like to create ingroups and point the finger at outgroups for things we don't like in life.
But in the end, the two-year break should (at least I hope) make for a more healthy rivalry -- if we let it.
I've made it no secret I dislike a majority of things about the rivalry. To be clear, though, I'm not anti-rivalry. I would like the game to continue. I like the game. It's always been a great game, especially since ... I'd say 1988. Utah ended a BYU nine-game win streak in the series with an absolute dismantling (57-28) in Salt Lake. In response the following year, the Cougars hung 70 on the Utes (70-31). Since 1988, Utah holds a 13-11 series lead. Both sides have posted some serious blowouts on the other, but there have also been 13 of those 24 games decided by a touchdown or less (9 of those 13 were by 3 points or less).
In short, it's been some entertaining football.
But when the game isn't played every year, I'm not ready to start weeping and wailing, nor am I interested in gnashing teeth at Utah or anyone else. It's okay to be a BYU fan without tying your fanhood into one game against Utah, and vice versa.
Despite the fact that the continuation of a regular rivalry is really all on Utah's plate -- BYU theoretically has any week open -- it's also okay to admit things like "Utah is actually in a tough spot scheduling-wise, given the Pac-12's restrictions on non-conference schedule." Or, "BYU might need the game more than Utah -- from a pure numbers standpoint, BYU needs to schedule 12 games every year, Utah needs 3."
But I digress.
So, what could come of the two-year break?
As fans, we could allow this to foster a more cordial, less obsessive relationship. Perhaps, with the two teams not playing each other, fans on both sides can stop tracking every move of the other team, waiting to troll with a rivalry-smack one-liner or to pounce on the rival's loss that week. Doesn't that make you more of an anti-Utah fan than a BYU fan?
Personally, I don't care what Utah does when not playing BYU. If anything, I lean towards wanting the Utes to win. Utah wins and BYU success aren't mutually exclusive, after all. In fact, if a person loves the rivalry so much, both teams winning makes it stronger in every way, even if they aren't playing in a given year (in recruiting, for example). Utah's failure would make for a poor rivalry.
Plus, I don't personally have anything against the institution, its coaches, or its players -- especially since Urban Meyer's team-down-south, urinal-cake idiocy is gone. It's just too bad so much of that rubbed off on this generation of Utah fans, since a good portion of them came aboard due to the success of Urban's teams. The attitude displayed by Ron McBride and LaVell Edwards was largely unknown to them, so their rivalry cues came mostly from Urban's childish behavior. And I'd say too many BYU fans have stepped up to match that idiocy.
(Remember when Ronnie Mac and LaVell made a commercial in which Saint Edwards was having nightmares about the score 34-31? Remember when we didn't take things so damn seriously? AND WHY ISN'T THIS ON YOUTUBE?)
I'm not actually suggesting that BYU fans should actively root for Utah. But at the least, do we really have to invest time and effort into rooting for the Utes to lose? It's tiresome to see so many in both fan bases acting that way. (To be clear, I'm not saying things are "too heated." I'm saying things are too childish. I want heated. I don't want stupid.) In 2014, I'll be more interested in whether or not the Cougars avenged the game they blew in Austin in 2011 against Texas, or what sort of season Southern Mississippi is putting together -- not in anything Utah is doing.
If you still would like to fixate on what Utah does, that's your fanhood. I'm not attempting to tell you that you are wrong or less of a fan. I'm just saying I don't understand it, and I don't like that so many fans do it. And if we did away with it, then the times we wanted to make a light-hearted rivalry jab would actually be fun.
This sort of obsession with the success (or desired failure) of the rival isn't shared between athletic directors -- a point made crystal clear during radio interviews given by both Tom Holmoe and Chris Hill yesterday. Both are working to keep the games on the schedule and are understanding of the other's situation.
It seems very possible the only way to avoid an interruption on Utah's side, regarding a home-away scheduling balance, was to play the game in Provo two years in a row, and in Salt Lake two years in a row. That may not have fit with what BYU has in the works for those seasons regarding its home-away balance. After all, Utah's 2014-15 series with Michigan is exciting for Utah fans, as it should be. BYU may be finalizing a similarly-exciting series that begins in 2015 that would require them to start it on the road, an opportunity equal to Utah-Michigan that would be too good to pass up -- and also one that would make playing Utah on the road in 2015 a non-starter if BYU's home-away balance is tipped.
That's all speculation, of course. My point is that both schools have gone through completely unforeseen seismic changes and are figuring out how the rivalry fits into all of it. So I really don't think placing blame on either side is worthwhile or warranted. College football has changed and could still be changing drastically. And as JazzyUte said over at BlockU:
Utah isn't signaling they've outgrown BYU. We just, you know, want our own room. They're still our brother, but we've been sharing a room for so long that dammit, it's time we actually get out into the real world. Don't worry, though, we'll be back for holidays and maybe occasionally on the weekends.
Relax, though. We just need some space. It's nothing personal.
I'm willing to grant Utah that. If both sides couldn't make it work for 2014-15, so be it. If it takes a two-year break for Utah and Chris Hill to figure out a scheduling plan and philosophy -- especially with the Pac-12's agreement with the Big Ten starting in 2017 -- to keep BYU on the schedule for the future, it could be worth it.
It could also give Utah some time to lobby the powers that be to allow a post-week-three exception for BYU, or allow time for Larry Scott to see that Utah-Colorado will never be the rivalry he wants it to be.
Or, both schools may come to the realization that playing every other year could work. Maybe both schools find a happier way of football life without each other altogether. Do I want that? Not really. But both schools could move forward in a positive way if that happens. It would be unfortunate, but my passion for BYU football would not be diminished.
For the immediate future, I'm glad games are scheduled in 2013 and 2016. I'm still happy to be a BYU fan. And I'm glad for a break, too -- if we could at least try to be adults about it.