Brad Rock: Why Utah-BYU really won't continue as is
SALT LAKE CITY — The relationship is stormy but passionate, their emotions running high.
They long to be together, yet circumstances tear them apart.
"Oh, Heathcliff, I can't lose you! I mustn't!"
"Better that I should die, dear Sarah, than lose your companionship!"
How many romance novels and movies have been built on that storyline? In this case, the story involves the BYU-Utah rivalry. And no, they probably won't be together forever, no matter how much they seem destined to continue. Odds are good that they simply won't be able to keep things going on an annual basis.
For years, this was the week Utah and BYU would meet in the emotional game. It certainly made for some awkward Thanksgiving moments at the dinner table. But this year the Cougars have a bye and the Utes are preoccupied with their final regular-season game, Friday against Colorado.
BYU and Utah met in September and are scheduled to do so again next year. Beyond that, it's a questionable proposal. One reason is that Utah has little choice, unless it wants to severely limit its options. If BYU ends up joining a BCS conference, it could be the same for the Cougars.
Never before has it been so important for teams to carefully pick their battles.
The BYU-Utah game probably won't be an annual event, even if the schools wanted to continue playing in September. That combination of dread, anticipation and excitement you used to get on rivalry week? It could vanish like the last French fry. With just three non-conference games available for Utah to schedule, should one of them always be BYU?
In media interviews, BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe and Utah counterpart Chris Hill have said they'd like the rivalry to continue annually, though neither has emphatically said it will. Hill appears particularly non-committal. It's not because he's afraid of losing the game, or even because he thinks the Utes have moved on to bigger things.
The ideal plan, Hill has indicated, is to play two non-conference teams per year that aren't terribly dangerous, and one that is. But wait — shouldn't the Utes play, say, Boise State occasionally?
If so, that would sometimes exclude BYU.
If BYU is Utah's "difficult" non-conference opponent every year, what about the years the game is in Salt Lake? Does that mean the Utes would be playing road games in Pocatello and Bozeman? Not likely.
Since the Utes recruit heavily in Texas, they'll want to play there as often as possible. In that sense, it would benefit Utah more to play Texas A&M or Texas than BYU.
On years when the Utes play only four Pac-12 home games, they wouldn't want to play another road game at BYU, even if it's BYU's turn to host. Hence, they'd either have to insist on BYU playing in Salt Lake City — something BYU would never concede — or find another opponent.
This year included a dangerous non-conference schedule for Utah, but it survived, beating both Pitt and BYU on the road. It had only Montana State in the "guaranteed win" category. The Utes will likely look for something easier next time.
At the moment, it's more important to the Cougars that the game be played annually. They're the ones who have scheduling problems. Utah is a BCS conference opponent. But should the Cougars join a BCS league, they could wind up in the same situation as Utah, looking for easier non-conference games.
Although playing the instate rivalry game on a yearly basis is popular with fans and media in Utah, it isn't necessarily the best recruiting move for either school. Instate players know who they are, even if they don't play one another. Out-of-state recruits don't really care.
If BYU does end up in the same situation as Utah — carefully planning its non-conference schedule — it would be an interesting irony. A separation could actually put them on the same page.
As the novelists say, parting is such sweet sorrow.
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