A few days ago, news trickled out that Utah and BYU have exchanged a few emails about scheduling additional games in their storied rivalry. After taking two years off, the Beehive State heavyweights are scheduled to meet each year from 2016-2018, and are at least discussing adding dates in 2019 and 2020.
Per the record request, Utah threw out some potential dates that BYU had already filled with Power Five opponents, like USC and Michigan State. Utah's AD indicated that the program isn't interested in scheduling Provo at the end of the season, as they want to continue to play Colorado then.
Is Utah trying to continue the series in good faith, or is this some sort of next level trolling? Those concerns did set off another spate of tweets about whether BYU and Utah even need to play each other any more, or if one side needs it more than the other. At least one radio station wrote that the two sides have outgrown each other. I'm sure at least some fans agree.
Personally, I think that's ridiculous. Utah and BYU both need this series to continue, but there is no shame in admitting that right now, BYU needs it more.
First, we have the issue of pure game inventory. BYU is not negotiating from a position of strength when it comes to securing future dates against Power Five opponents. As such, BYU is taking two for one deals, or front loaded game contracts, where the Cougars make an early road trip, and the other squad makes a return to several years later. Few teams are going to schedule BYU more than once a decade, making securing a home inventory difficult. It's fun for the sake of novelty, or getting around the country, but it does lead to imbalanced schedules.
You know an easy way to fix that? Schedule Utah every season. If BYU and Utah play every year, the Cougars can pencil in a home game with the Utes four to five times a decade. That'll help stagger future schedules to make sure BYU always gets at least one P5 team, and given them additional flexibility for their more national game contracts.
Second, let's not pretend that all P5 teams, and games, are created equal. There is a fair amount of risk in scheduling a team very far in advance. Did BYU really gain very much from say, their series with Virginia? Getting multiple games with Stanford may look great now, but the Cardinal could completely suck by the time they make the trip to Provo. Michigan State looks like an awesome get now, but without their best assistant coach and with a resurgent Michigan program in the wings, could they drop back to a 6, 7 win team by 2020? Sure they could.
Outside of securing a home game with a true college football blueblood (some that is obviously very hard to do), there are very few games where some sort of value is totally secure. Utah is one of those teams. A victory over the Utes, even if they're an 4-8 team, is important to BYU's fans, their potential donors, and perhaps most importantly, to in-state recruits. Without a conference, future schedules will always be fraught with risk, and regular games against Utah help hedge against that. That game, no matter how good or bad either team might be, will always be important.
That's the real issue here, right? The Holy War is one of the most unique rivalry games in all of college football. It's relatively rare for two football programs of relatively equal stature to be in such close proximity to each other, and with such a long, competitive history. When you add in the complex religious, political and cultural undertones to the rivalry, you get a game where the passion is nearly unrivaled across the country. It's one of the most special things about either football program, and one that should not be casually discarded.
BYU needs this game, since recruiting in the state of Utah will be trickier against a program that can offer a more complete path to a championship or major bowl game. They need it for their fans, to give them a meaningful home game. Utah needs this to solidify their stature as the premier program in the state (something that is by no means secure), and to preserve a rich part of their history. The gains they're going to get from regularly playing BYU are going to outstrip those they'd get by playing and beating an ACC or Big Ten team (or a lower-tier bodybag game), as much as they may be loath to admit it.
Right now, since BYU needs this game a little more, they should be prepared to be flexible to maintain it. If that means they have to postpone a series against a slightly bigger "name" school, like another Pac-12 squad, they should do it. If it means they might not always be able to get a pure home and home arrangement, as long as it doesn't cripple their competitiveness, they should do it. Later, should BYU rebound over the next few seasons (or Utah struggle), perhaps BYU can use more leverage, and force Utah to play the game after Colorado. Who knows?
But the notion that either team has outgrown this is silly. Playing some far flung, lower-tier team from the other side of the country won't provide the recruiting, the emotional, or the historical advantage, for either team, than keeping this series alive would. Here's hoping everybody can swallow their pride and get it done. College football has already lost enough history to realignment. It would be a shame to lose this too.