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Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is wrongly blaming Nick Emery for the game cancellation

The Utah basketball program is running away from a defining aspect of their program, the BYU-Utah game, and trying to ascribe the fault to Nick Emery. Make no mistake, this is on Krystkowiak.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Utah Basketball head coach Larry Krystkowiak has made up his mind. Chris Hill, the University of Utah's Athletic Director, has supported Krystkowiak and taken action.

They have cancelled the 7th longest running series in the history of college basketball.

Not only have BYU and Utah played each other 257 times, including a matchup every year since 1909 (except for one year during World War II), they have been as close and competitive as possible with an odd amount of games. BYU edges Utah in the series by one game with a record of 129-128. It is an incredible, intense rivalry. One of the truly great matchup in the history of the college game. It has been incalculably valuable to both programs in their growth and chase for basketball excellence.

Which is why BYU head coach Dave Rose is baffled by Krystkowiak's desire to let it "cool down" and fade away. In fact, Rose flat out "doesn't respect the decision."

To clarify, here's Krystkowiak's explanation in his press release:

The event that have occurred in our recent games with BYU led me to ask Dr. Hill several weeks ago if we could take a cooling off period and put the rivalry on hold. The level of emotions has escalated to the point where there is the potential for serious injury.

Utah athletic director Chris Hill doubled down:

Coach Krystkowiak came to me last month and expressed a deep concern about the incidents that have occurred in recent years during our games with BYU. In the interests of our student-athlete welfare, he requested we cancel the BYU series until further notice. Given his reasons, I agreed to cancel next year's game.

Tradition, excitement, pageantry, and genuine intrigue all allegedly placed upon the altar of player safety. A move I would totally support -- who doesn't love safety? -- if it wasn't an absolute garbage explanation.

Utah basketball and athletics would have been far better served to announce the cancellation of the basketball games without providing a reason than to dish out the avoid "the potential for serious injury" and "interests of our student-athlete welfare" nonsense. Should fans anticipate the following press releases in the next few days?

  • I, Larry Krystkowiak, having just watched Cast Away, am now concerned about the dangers of air travel. Therefore, for the safety of our players. Therefore, we will no longer be taking an airplane for away games.
  • Today, I am also concerned about travel in a bus. It is intense. What if we aren't allowed to slow it down once we get going? Bus travel is a situation in which players are at risk for grave tragedy. So, we will no longer be playing road games for the health and benefit of our student-athletes. By the way, I watched Sandra Bullock in Speed last night.
  • Utah fans will no longer be allowed to enter the Huntsman Center until they clear the security check, which will now conclude with a mandatory Purell cleanse for all spectators. Lower bowl visitors will be required to wear surgical masks, similar to what cinephiles can witness in the Dustin Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr. thrill ride Outbreak. All this will be done for the protection of our players.
  • I'm delighted to announce that the Huntsman Center will now undergo improvements to have a bomb shelter deep within its recesses in case The Sum of All Fears occurs and a nuclear war threatens the safety of our student-athletes.
By invoking player safety and directly referring to the previous matchup, it is clear that Larry Krystkowiak is attempting to shamelessly place the weight of the blame on BYU freshman guard Nick Emery.

Emery infamously was ejected from the last game between Utah and BYU after he punched Utah guard Brandon Taylor. It was a boneheaded thing to do. Emery was wrong. For his idiocy, Emery was punished. He was immediately ejected. He was suspended by BYU for 1 game.

Krystkowiak (and Hill) put the crosshairs on Emery with their justification of the cancellation. That positioning by the Utah head coach is an indication of his believe that BYU wasn't strong enough in their punitive disciplinary actions regarding Emery's punch. In response, Krystkowiak asked Hill to find the $80,000 for the cancellation buyout and thus do all in their power to legislate the affairs of Dave Rose, Tom Holmoe, and Brigham Young University. Hill obliged Krystkowiak's request -- an expensive and juvenile way to make a point.

One of the disappointing and confusing parts of this whole thing is that Larry Krystkowiak is old-school tough. I remember him standing up to Dennis Rodman who was bullying his Milwaukee Bucks teammate in the playoffs against the Bad Boys Pistons. He was named an All-American as a player at the University of Montana due to his rugged play.

Krystkowiak got into a donnybrook once in college against the University of Washington. A night when then-Washington Huskies head coach Andy Russo described the Krystkowiak-led Grizzlies basketball team by saying "Montana is a very good team. I don't know if the Russian Army could have beaten them tonight." Late in the game Krystkowiak was fouled hard from behind. In retaliation, Larry swung and connected a big elbow. When asked after the game about the incident Krystkowiak quipped, "It was just a good, old-fashioned basketball game."

Anyone who watched Krystkowiak the player, or the coach would be impressed with his intense, tenacious, unyielding, sinewy approach to life on the hardwood. It is the core of his basketball DNA.

This aspect of Krystkowiak was on display directly after Emery punched Brandon Taylor. Krystkowiak was a mad man. Seeing red, the Utah coach stormed all over the basketball court trying to get at the BYU player -- having to be restrained by his own player Jordan Loveridge and an assistant. In fact, the most emotional, amped up, most out of control person in the entire Huntsman Center was Krystkowiak himself. He flipped out. He barely, barely kept it together.

Perhaps this experience rattled Krystkowiak. Maybe it scared him how much he lost self-control. He likely knows that as bad a look it was for Emery to throw a punch, it was nearly as bad for the head coach to have to be restrained and talked down by his own player. When Krystkowiak speaks of a "cooling down," could it be that it is self-imposed preventative action to keep himself from improper on-court behavior?

The problem with the suggestions of the previous paragraph is that they deviate from who Larry Krystkowiak has been as a competitor over his life in basketball. But his desire to run from the big stage and important rivalry battles veer from his identity too. It doesn't add up. So, the seemingly bizarre hypothesis above is just as likely as anything else.

Whether or not Krystkowiak's cancellation is about player's well-being and safety will be put to the test for the remainder of his time at the helm for the Utes. If it truly was about avoiding "serious injury," then it means that yesterday a new policy doctrine was set for the University of Utah basketball program -- if any opponent commits a flagrant 2 foul against the University of Utah, Utah will no longer compete against that opponent, even if it comes at the cost of a buyout.

If that policy doctrine isn't upheld, then Krystkowiak will be shown to be seeking out a petty form of retaliation and advocating it by ascribing responsibility on a college freshman.

Ironically, Krystkowiak cancellation decision has done nothing, and will do nothing to cool down the rivalry. The opposite is true. If and when the BYU-Utah game returns and Krystkowiak is on the sidelines in his crimson sport jacket, the emotion of that event will make the December 2, 2015, clash seem like a cakewalk.

The future of this great game is on hold. No one knows how long it will be gone. Perhaps it will return once Krystkowiak is no longer associated with the University of Utah. This period without games will be a footnote in the storied rivalry. History will remember that Larry Krystkowiak, not Nick Emery, killed one of the great spectacles of college basketball -- a defining blemish on Krystkowiak's hoops legacy.