Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
You want to know what spells out everything that's wrong with college football?
The BYU-Utah rivalry, which will soon not be playing at a stadium near you.
Last week we learned that the Utes will drop the Cougars from their schedule in 2014 and 2015. On a list of bad breakups, this ranks up there with John and Yoko dumping the Beatles, Brad leaving Jen, and the Colts fleeing Baltimore for Indianapolis.
Wait, Robinson, not another article about the slow demise of the rivalry! No, this is about a bigger problem — the breakup of the rivalry is just a symptom.
Critics want to blame the Yoko-Utes for the breakup, and they should. Then again, it's the world in which they live. Blame the crazy college football system, too. The Utes are merely playing the game within the game that most elite schools play to thrive in the nonsensical world of college football. It's all about money, bowl and TV appearances, polls, alumni donations (OK, it's all pretty much the same thing), not rivalries or fans.
When two major universities that are 60 miles apart stop playing one another; when schools that have been playing each other for a century start finding reasons to ignore each other; when a rivalry that is the biggest sporting event in the entire state each year gets interrupted against the overwhelming wish of the public, especially when one is supported by taxpayers, something is wrong.
That something is the entire college game.
The bottom line is simple: The Utes don't want to play the Cougars because THEY WANT AN EASIER OPPONENT. Says who? The Utes. They don't even try to disguise their motive. They want someone they can handle without breaking too much of a sweat. They want, for instance, Northern Colorado (next season's opening opponent).
Their reasoning is that the Pac-12 schedule is difficult enough, why make the season more difficult? That's a debatable point — please, see won-loss records during the past five years for Colorado (22-40), Washington (22-40), Cal (36-28), Oregon State (34-29), Washington State (14-47), UCLA (27-37), and Arizona State (31-31). But that's the Utes' thinking, and that's the way the game is played.
The formula for putting your team in contention for the national title and/or the big bowl bucks is to run the table, or, at the very worst, never take more than one loss. That's how you get the attention of the voters and score points with the Barbara Billingsley poll and Hester Prine rankings or whatever they are. Teams walk a fine line between a schedule that will pass the strength-of-schedule test and "overdoing" it.
The Utes are dodging the Cougars; they're saying, essentially, they could lose if they play the Cougars, so what's the point? They have nothing to gain. (Some have countered that if the Ute program has arrived and is a contender in the Pac-12, then they should expect to defeat the Cougars most of the time.)
That's why college football is no better than boxing. Boxers fight a few stiffs to inflate their records and their wallets and build a big payday for a match with a meaningful opponent.
Let's face it, college football was a lot more fun before it became a billion-dollar business.
The non-conference scheduling game, as everyone knows and as spelled out again by Utah athletic director Chris Hill last week, is to line up one name opponent, one mediocre opponent and one cupcake. OK, he didn't exactly use those terms, but that's what he said.
The system is not going to change with the implementation of a four-team playoff in a few years. It's better than the current system, but most schools will continue to have limited access to the meaningful bowl/playoff games, as always, and there will still be subjective selections that favor the powers-that-be. This will not be football's version of the NCAA basketball tournament.
The old rules will still apply: Win a lot of games, and if you have to lose a game do it early in the season, and schedule some automatic wins in there.
"Some would say that we're running away from the competition," Hill told ABC-4, "but we need to make sure our schedule is manageable so we can do what our fans want us to do, which is win in our league."
Their fans also want the Utes to beat the snot out of BYU.
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