Yesterday the Deseret News published an article from Lee Benson that caused yet another ripple effect in the BYU Cougars and Utah Utes football rivalry. The DN story, a long interview touching on many subjects with Utah AD Chris Hill, can be read here. The part that created the uproar was in regards to a question asked referencing the two year hiatus between the teams. Take a look and see for yourself why the question and answer blew up twitter:
DN: Given the controversy it stirred up, do you ever revisit your decision to not play BYU in football every year?
CH: Not too much. The deep, dark dirty secret is our fans are not disappointed. That’s a hard thing to say, right? There are three groups. There’s our fans, who say it’s only two years (off), we get to play Michigan here, it’s not like every year we’re not going to play them, it’s not that big a deal. Then there’s the media, bless their hearts, but it kills their self-serving jobs. What are you going to talk about on the radio if you don’t have the BYU-Utah game? What are you going to write about? And of course BYU wants us to play every year. But my job is what’s in the best interest of the University of Utah, and the Michigan game this year at our place will be the most-watched game out of Salt Lake City ever.
It is hard to believe that his first point is accurate. I haven't completed a study, just spent a lot of time on Twitter and talked to fans in real life, but it seems hard to believe that such a large majority of Utah fans really don't want to play this game. It seems more likely that public posturing over how it "doesn't matter" as a way of sticking it to their rivals. Did all of those decades of college football history go by the wayside because suddenly Ute fans are more invested in Colorado all of a sudden? That just seems difficult to believe. It's not like Utah and BYU fans have suddenly stopped sniping at each other..the rivalry doesn't vanish just because the teams didn't play, at least, not in the short term.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of this answer was the fact that Dr. Hill assumes that if there is no BYU/Utah game then the fans and media have nothing to discuss. It doesn't matter that there are 11 other games for each team. It doesn't matter that there are other schools in the market. It doesn't even matter that there are other sports, and even the NBA in Utah that can be discussed. According to Hill the radio wave would be silent without the game. Last time I checked, the local radio was talking local sports without having to pull the BYU vs Utah card. And if somehow, Utah sports radio has nothing to talk about if Utah doesn't play BYU, that doesn't really speak to the #brands pull of getting a game with Michigan, does it?
Dr. Hill mentioned that he is trying to do what is in the best interest of his school. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think that is what every Athletic Director is doing as they make decisions for their schools. BYU of course wants to play Utah every year. We've written a lot about how BYU probably needs this series more than Utah does. But that doesn't mean it isn't beneficial for Utah too.
Dr. Hill hinted that BYU was replaced with Michigan this year. Why can't you have BYU and Michigan play in the same year? For the two years of the hiatus the Cougars scheduled Michigan, Fresno State, and Idaho State/Utah State. Most would put BYU somewhere in between Michigan and Fresno State. So why not have the schedule reflect Michigan, BYU, and Idaho State/Utah State? Lots of Power Five programs schedule as ambitiously during their out of conference slates, and Utah could probably bully BYU into playing 2 for 1s to get more games in Salt Lake, at least in the short term.
I think it comes down to the fact that by choosing an opponent like Fresno State there is less chance for a loss. Even though Utah has had the upper-hand in the last decade, it is still a hard fought game that could go either way most years. Rivalry games are always that way. Throw out the records, throw out the stats. Most years rivals ignore who is better and they play each other with emotion, excitement, and anything can happen.
Brands and money aside, in all honesty, The Holy War is much more than any game on either teams schedule. It is more important to the fans, it is more important to the communities, and it is more important to the schools. Players are remembered, even revered from rivalry games. Very few are remembered from a regular season game at any other school, especially one against a program thousands of miles away with no shared history. We need to cut through the insinuations, the pride, whatever it is and make sure that this hiatus is the only one taken and reward both fan bases with the game everyone wants and needs.
The Holy War is one of the most unique and interesting rivalries in all of college football. It would be a shame to end it over something so shortsighted. Getting this game on the schedule is good for both schools, and the state of Utah.
After appearing to take a hit from the fans and media today it seems that Chris Hill and the University of Utah have published a statement regarding the rivalry. This was seen in a post from Greg Wrubell and the statement is part of his tweet:
University of Utah releases statement from AD Chris Hill on the state/future of the BYU-Utah football rivalry: pic.twitter.com/HDS0MZZbK0— Greg Wrubell (@gregwrubell) August 18, 2015
It is good to see that both schools are working towards continuing this rivalry and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.