Sometimes on Sundays: Move to Pac-12 will find Utah Utes playing more Sunday games

Published: Saturday, July 23 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — When the University of Utah competed in the Mountain West Conference, the basic guideline for sporting events was "never on Sunday," to accommodate fellow MWC member BYU's policy of not playing on Sunday.

Because the Cougars wouldn't play sporting events on Sunday, the league didn't schedule any conference tournaments that could be played on Sunday and held very few Sunday contests overall.

The Utes and other MWC schools did play a few games on Sunday — mostly women's soccer and baseball. Among the major sports, the only contests outside of NCAA Tournament games played on Sunday were an occasional Sunday game for TV purposes, such as Utah's 1998 basketball game against New Mexico at The Pit.

However, Sunday games will now become more common for Utah as it competes in the Pac-12 Conference, which, like most conferences around the country, regularly holds sporting events on Sunday. And with its new lucrative TV contract, the Pac-12 could hold even more games on Sunday in the future, since television likes to dictate such matters.

It's no secret that Sunday games in Salt Lake City are a challenge because of the prevailing LDS Church culture. Most active LDS church members prefer not to attend sporting events on Sunday, and most Utah sports organizations try to avoid Sunday games.

More than two decades ago, the Utah Jazz arranged with the NBA not to have any regular-season home games scheduled on Sunday. Real Salt Lake doesn't schedule home games on Sunday, even though Major League Soccer teams will play a total of 34 games on Sunday this year. The Salt Lake Bees can't avoid Sunday games with an almost daily schedule that stretches from April to September.

Utah athletics director Chris Hill knows that his school will likely be playing more games on Sunday, even some at home, but he says his school can't be demanding, especially as a brand-new Pac-12 member.

"No, that's up to the conference," he said when asked if his school is concerned about being assigned Sunday contests. "We understand that it's difficult to play on Sunday for us. But we're part of the conference and we'll be full members and go from there."

Hill is well aware of the prevailing culture in Utah and knows attendance at Sunday games will generally be lower. The Utes have never scheduled men's basketball games on Sunday and have often moved starting times of football games on LDS Conference weekends so they don't conflict with conference sessions.

"The league may be sensitive to that, but we're not in a position to demand," Hill said. "We don't want to play a ton of games on Sunday, but I also want to make sure we send a message that we can play on Sundays and we have played on Sundays. It's clearly what the Pac-12 schedule turns out to be."

Hill is correct that the Pac-12 won't try to accommodate Utah when it comes to Sunday games.

When asked about that, Pac-12 Vice President Dave Hirsch replied, "No specific scheduling provisions were made with Utah, and it is treated like any other member of the conference."

That's the case in women's volleyball, which has scheduled 11 Sunday matches this year. Utah has just one of those matches and it is at home, on Oct. 2 against USC. In soccer, the Utes have four Sunday games with two at home. The gymnastics team has two Sunday meets, both on the road, at UCLA and Arizona State.

The conference released its men's and women's basketball schedules for the year, showing all Thursday and Saturday games. However, Hirsch said those schedules will be tweaked in late September or early October when television will make its selections for games to be played on other days of the week. Last season, nine men's games and 13 women's games were played on Sunday.

But Utah isn't the only school that might prefer not to have games on Sundays.

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