For most people, the BYU-Utah rivalry used to be a one-week affair.
The actual week leading up to the annual gridiron meeting between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, which is this week, would usually be filled with all sorts of noise and chatter between the two institutions' fan bases, but everything remained calm and cool during the other 51 weeks of the year.
However, as BYU fan Tyler Henderson of Seattle pointed out, that's no longer the case for the folks who post on BYU or Utah message boards across the Internet.
For them, the BYU-Utah rivalry has become a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, year-round endeavor.
Throughout cyberspace, minute details are debated — over and over and over again — battles for perceived supremacy between the two rivals are continually waged and, in general, fans of BYU and Utah interact with each other every day throughout the year.
"The rivalry goes on longer because the two fan bases are constantly in contact with each other," says Henderson, 31, who has been posting on the prominent BYU sports message board, cougarboard.com, since 2003.
"It used to be that there was a BYU-Utah rivalry game and the week leading up to that your neighbors were having some friendly banter going on, talking a little trash or whatever. But now you're constantly in contact with each other and so you're always keeping tabs on the other program because you wanna see how they're doing.
"Basically, it's the rivalry on a smaller level week-to-week."
The rivalry has certainly played out that way on deseretnews.com, which introduced several changes to its website last fall in hopes of producing more civility.
As the BYU-Utah rivalry has moved online, the shift from macro to micro has undoubtedly had its positives and negatives.
"It has pluses and minuses," says Henderson. "It does have a fun, more entertaining angle, but it does have its side that's probably uglier than it otherwise would be, as well."
For Utah fan Alex Chidester, 23, Orem, the thing that draws him to BYU-Utah message boards is the fact that he can more easily find information about the two schools than he can anywhere else — regardless of what else is going on in the world of sports.
It's a sentiment shared by many of the folks who post on Internet message boards throughout cyberspace.
"The thing that appeals to me is it's a concentrated, focused element," says Chidester, who actively posts on five to six websites, including Utezone.com, a subscription message board, and Utefans.net.
"I can go to other websites that will talk about college football or sports in general, but (BYU-Utah message boards) are appealing when the local media talks about the Jazz or the NBA when that's something that I just don't really care for. It's nice to have those message boards that are talking about just Utah or just BYU and it's within a culture that I'm comfortable with."
Of course, as Chidester quickly noted, there's also the flip side.
Cloaked in the anonymity of an Internet screen name, posters can say whatever they want whenever they want. On message boards involving BYU and Utah, that has allowed for an enormous amount of bitter exchanges between the two sides.
"It's contributed to making the rivalry much more uncivil, partly because of the anonymity of the Internet," says longtime BYU fan Craig Gale, who frequently posts comments on deseretnews.com. "There are many Internet bloggers, who are more haters than they are fans; who are more interested in heckling the opposition than they are in having a real discussion."
Adds Henderson: "It's definitely different than kind of the 'real-world' personal contact settings because I think maybe it gets a little bit more heated, a little more aggressive because people are willing to say things they wouldn't necessarily say in other scenarios."
That has most definitely been the case on comment sections at deseretnews.com.
Since comment sections were launched in 2007 on the website of the state's oldest newspaper, a whole host of unpleasant exchanges have occurred between BYU and Utah fans.
Usually it's over the same kinds of things, as Utah fan Ben White, 25, Centerville, pointed out.
"It just seems like every single debate, no matter how it originated or from what perspective quickly turns into a never-ending loop of 'Oh yeah? Well we won two BCS games.' 'Oh yeah? You think that's cool? We won a national championship!' 'Oh yeah? Well we have done something this century!' 'Oh yeah? Well we have a richer tradition!' And it just never goes beyond that," says White, who frequently posts comments on deseretnews.com.
The two BCS wins vs. a national championship debate is just one of the staples of the most heavily-commented stories on deseretnews.com and other places. Another staple is the use of terms such as "Yewts," instead of "Utes" and "TDS" or Team Down South, a phrase Urban Meyer introduced to describe BYU.
At times, "Yewts" and "TDS" can be amongst the more benign phrases exchanged on deseretnews.com, as much more vitriolic and cringe-worthy verbal volleys are hurled back and forth.
In an effort to clamp down on the lack of civility and respect in those heated discussions, deseretnews.com unveiled several changes earlier this fall it hopes will tone down such inflammatory comments.
The changes more clearly differentiate between professionally produced stories and reader comments, require every user to include a real name and location, limit user comments to two per story and updated comment standards "to further emphasize civility."
Real names are not published by the Deseret News but locations are now included immediately beneath user names.
Everyone who spoke with the Deseret News about how the rivalry plays out online said they would like to see the more extreme elements of anger and hatred disappear from the Internet. They'd also like to see, as Gale put it, the "Internet trouble-makers" weeded out.
But they also don't want to see the BYU-Utah rivalry diminished substantially as a result.
"In many respects, the rivalry is a bit unhealthy now, but I think it is important for both schools," said Gale, echoing the sentiments of others. "And I think fans on both sides would be bitterly disappointed if the rivalry were discontinued."
Of course, balancing the objective of making things more civil versus the objective of keeping the rivalry going is hardly an easy task.
That's why White, who isn't enamored with the new rules, understands why they were put in place.
"I can see the reasons why they do it the way they do," he said.
Utes and Cougars on the air
Sat., Nov. 27, 1:30 p.m.
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