Utah Utes football: Unapologetic Chris Hill says he has to do what's best for Ute football program
Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah athletics director Chris Hill acknowledged it's a bit of a balancing act. While trying to be sensitive to the needs of fans, teams and coaches, he's focused on getting the Utes in position to succeed in the Pac-12.
It's his department's top priority.
"We're playing to do great in the Pac-12," he said. "That's our goal right now."
Everything else is secondary, including Utah's long-standing football rivalry with BYU.
"That's a change of culture," Hill admits. "That doesn't mean we don't want to beat BYU and play them, but I know all of us felt 'geez, this is a different thing.'"
So much so, as it turned out, that Hill opted to put the popular series between the Utes and Cougars on hold in 2014 and 2015 — ending a streak of annual meetings that dates back to 1946.
"More than anything, the thing that has made it different is being in a different league and them being independent. That's a huge change," Hill said. "That's the change. I think people understand it intellectually, but emotionally I don't think they understand it."
Utah's move to the Pac-12 last season included an increase to nine conference games, leaving the Utes with just three non-league openings each year and a new approach to scheduling — especially with additional opportunities that have developed since moving into one of the nation's power conferences.
A home-and-home series with Michigan in 2014-15 led to an interruption of the annual game against BYU.
"You've got to balance a very difficult schedule with winning games. Our fans want us to win the division, win the league and go to the Rose Bowl," Hill said. "And you've got to have a schedule that gives a little balance to that and when you have an unusual thing come in like Michigan you've got to take advantage of it."
There are a lot of reasons to do so, he continued, like recruiting and national exposure.
Hill said adding BYU to a schedule that includes Michigan and nine Pac-12 opponents would give Utah a slate like no other in the country, 11 tough games.
"Let's be serious. We have a really good program," Hill said of the situation. "Our fans want us to do well in the Pac-12 and BYU is a darn good program."
Playing the Cougars each year, thus, is jeopardized when games like Michigan (especially in Salt Lake City) materialize.
"It's never something that I would take lightly," Hill said of the BYU rivalry. "But at the same time the decision, I feel, is the right thing for us and at the end of the day I've got to do what's right for us."
While expressing a desire not to disparage anyone else, Hill emphasized that he owes it to Utah's fans, team and coaches to give them the best chance to be successful when conference play rolls around.
The Utes intend to keep playing BYU in the future. Games are already scheduled beyond this year's meeting at Rice-Eccles Stadium — 2013 in Provo and 2016 in Salt Lake City.
"I understand the importance of this rivalry," Hill said. "This is not a Texas-Texas A&M where there's animosity and we don't want to play."
Hill added that he and BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe are on the same page in that regard. However, Hill noted it's not Holmoe's role to understand Utah's reasons for interrupting the series. Holmoe has been clear about BYU's desire to keep the game going each year and Hill thinks the point has been made in a "very tasteful way."
That said, however, discussions have yet to begin on continuing the rivalry beyond 2016.
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