Brad Rock: BYU-Utah Utes rivalry not going quietly in the night

Published: Tuesday, June 7 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

I'm convinced the Utah-BYU rivalry will eventually become just like me: mellower and more mature, though not as good as I once was. It won't die, but both schools will acknowledge they have bigger fish to fry.

Utah will realize that it can still go to the Rose Bowl, whether it beats BYU or not. BYU will notice that beating Utah might be important and fun, but no more so than beating Texas or Notre Dame.

Eventually it won't mean as much to either school as it used to.

At the same time, I'm also sure the rivalry isn't going to leave quietly. There will be plenty of flailing and twitching before it settles. If you want proof, just check out last week's news that Utah forward Josh Sharp is transferring to BYU. There were hundreds of postings on the comment boards, including accusations of unethical behavior.

It's not a real rivalry if those things don't happen.

When news of Utah joining the Pac-12 broke a year ago, some thought the rivalry was immediately dead; Utah had moved on. But in a matter of weeks, BYU answered by announcing it was going independent.

Meanwhile, fans on both sides got even more sensitive than they already were. BYU fans, and even some officials, hinted that Utah violated an unwritten agreement that the schools would stick together. (This despite the fact BYU prepared sales pitches for other conferences in the 1990s.)

Ute fans claim that BYU recruits LDS players by obligating them to play for the church school. Former Ute basketball coach Rick Majerus once observed he was good, but he couldn't recruit against deity. Yet Utah has had numerous LDS players.

BYU touts its football schedule, which in the next few years includes games against Mississippi, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Texas, TCU and Oregon State. Utah, which opens its Pac-12 era against USC, will have an impressive schedule every year.

BYU fans insist Utah will still end up in the Las Vegas Bowl — as an also-ran in the Pac-12. Utah fans say BYU will never play in a BCS bowl.

By the time last week rolled around, nothing had changed. When first-year Ute basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak learned Sharp was transferring to BYU, he accused an unnamed team (hmmmm ... who could that be?) of breaking an unwritten rule (there's that word again) by recruiting Sharp while on his mission. Krystkowiak went on to say that certain schools (hint, hint) had taken advantage of "a loophole in the system."

BYU didn't respond, but the intimation was clear: Oh, boo-hoo.

The teams continue to battle for coverage in the news media, too, dispatching one press release after another, about one honor or another. They've always done that, but never with more vigor.

BYU went so far as to hold a press conference for the hiring of an assistant basketball coach (Mark Pope). Utah did the same in hiring Norm Chow as its offensive coordinator, though it could be argued he's in a class by himself.

It's not surprising there's so much animosity in the rivalry. The games are usually close. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and assistants Kalani Sitake and Aaron Roderick were all starters at BYU. Steve Kaufusi, BYU's defensive line coach, left a job at Utah to coach at BYU. Numerous players have had family members who attended the other school. BYU president Cecil Samuelson was a founding member of the Crimson Club.

If you checked the sidelines at Utah practices last year, you might have seen Jason Buck, the former BYU all-America, watching his son. Linebacker J.J. Williams is the son of former Cougar Doug Williams.

Ex-Cougar Reno Mahe even played in Utah's celebrity spring football game this year.

There's a lot of line-crossing going on.

So plan on the rivalry staying intense, at least for a year or two. Eventually it will fade some, but for the time being it's going to be as nasty and personal and intense as ever. For my part, I might just take a break. Then I'll come back and see what the rivalry looks like when it's all grown up.

email: rock@desnews.com Twitter: therockmonster

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