Doug Robinson: Utah vs. BYU football game should continue

Published: Monday, June 18 2012 11:02 p.m. MDT

A small pack of BYU fans watch as the Cougars take on their rival Utah Utes. The rivalry will change with the teams in different conferences.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Whaddya mean they might not continue the BYU-Utah football rivalry at some point?

How do you have a football season without the blue and red meeting on a fall afternoon? It's like Wimbledon without the strawberries, the Tour de France without the Pyrenees, the Fourth of July without fireworks, Christmas without the tree, autumn without the leaves.

It's "Braveheart" without the pre-battle speech, it's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" without Chief throwing the fountain through the window, it's Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and leaving out the last line.

Hey, Robinson, take it next door to the sports section.

Wait, this is bigger than sports. When BYU and Utah play, everyone tunes in.

Even people who think a wide receiver is a guy with a weight issue.

Even people who wonder who in the world PAT is.

Everyone tunes into The Game. The state stops. It transcends sports. It's a supposed clash of cultures. It's the so-called "Holy War," for better or worse. It's, well, us. It's part of Utah, like Temple Square and Mt. Olympus and the lake and Pioneer Day.

They've been playing this game since the turn of the century – the last century. They played each other in 1896. They began playing each other annually in 1922. In all the time since then, the only thing that could keep them apart was a world war, and that was for just three seasons.

And now it could become an irregular event?

Recently, Kyle Whittingham, the Utah coach and BYU grad, indicated that the Utes' heavyweight Pac 12 schedule, combined with a plan to add a game against a Big Ten team each year, simply make the schedule too difficult. It adds up to too many tough opponents in one season, or so the reasoning goes in the weird world of college football.

"If taking a year or two off periodically is best for our program, best for our scheduling, then that's what we've got to do," Whittingham told Yahoo! Sports. "Our program is bigger than the rivalry."

Don't blame Whittingham; blame college football. It's the biggest mess this side of the IOC and Congress. It's the world he has to live in. The scheduling dilemma is just a symptom of a sport that is being run by TV, money and an outdated bowl system. Teams are at the mercy of polls whose votes decide who gets to play in a bowl game and receive the millions of dollars that come with it.

College football is in chaos. In the scramble for money, teams are abandoning natural rivalries and conferences like rats jumping off a sinking ship, so they can form and reform new, more lucrative alliances. It's why Utah State plays Louisiana Tech regularly.

It's a system that has left a Top 25 program like BYU without a conference affiliation and picking up whatever opponent it can scrounge up, from lowly Idaho State to powerhouse Texas.

It's a system that rewards teams for signing up easier nonconference opponents to look better for voters.

"I think the operative word with scheduling with nonconference games is balance," Whittingham told Yahoo. "The Pac-12 schedule is rigorous. You play nine conference games, which is one more than most conferences play, so that increases the degree of difficulty right there .... You don't want to put yourself at a disadvantage by over-scheduling your nonconference games.

From a practical point of view, Utah shouldn't play BYU. No way. In the current system, the Utes have nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing the Cougars.

They should do it anyway.

They should do it because the public wants it.

They should do it because the Utes and Cougars are two elite football schools separated by just 50 miles.

They should do it because they never run from a fight and believe they will win the game anyway.

They should do it because Ron McBride worked hard to turn it into a real rivalry in which the Utes won their share of games against the Cougars, and it just seems wrong to turn their backs on them now that they are in a big-time conference.

They should do it so they can decide who is the best team on the field, not with endless, tiresome arguments among fans via blogs.

They should do it because other rivalries flourish even though they belong to different conferences — Florida and Florida State, Colorado and Colorado State, Georgia and Georgia Tech. They should do it because USC, a Pac 12 school, still plays Notre Dame, an independent like BYU.

They should do it because money and TV shouldn't be allowed to disrupt a natural rivalry with such a rich tradition.

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