Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
PROVO — Friday's announcement that BYU and Arizona have scheduled a three-game series is part of an emerging trend in college football — neutral-site contests at National Football League stadiums.
The Cougars and Wildcats will play the first game of the series in 2016 at the home of the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz. BYU will travel to Tucson in 2018, and the Wildcats will visit Provo in 2020.
"I think you're going to see a lot more of this across the nation," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said of the three-game scheduling agreement that includes a neutral venue.
The 2016 contest, to be held at the University of Phoenix Stadium, will be presented by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority in conjunction with the Fiesta Bowl.
The Cougars will actually play two games at NFL stadiums in 2016, including a matchup with West Virginia at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
"Our program at this point is going and playing the best teams on the biggest stages," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "We're looking forward to competing and as many people that we can get to watch as well, with our intriguing style of play and the unique individuals we get to come here, it's just a win-win for both institutions, both coaches, and I think it will be great for the fans. We have a ton of (LDS) Church members and a ton of alumni (in Arizona)."
The scheduling announcement was made in an unusual fashion — live on a Google+Hangout, although it started about 30 minutes later than the scheduled time due to technical difficulties. Holmoe, Mendenhall, Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, former Cougar Chad Lewis and former Wildcat Tedy Bruschi were among those that participated in the online event.
"It's going to be a great regional rivalry, but it also will be a national rivalry," Rodriguez said. "There's a lot of national interest as well in both programs. I have a tremendous amount of respect for (BYU) and for Bronco, who's a friend of mine. I don't like playing friends, but I think it will be a great series for both schools and fan bases."
Certainly, both programs are looking forward to playing a game at the University of Phoenix Stadium. The venue has a retractable roof and seats 63,400. It opened in August 2006 and is the site of the annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
"It's a beautiful venue," Holmoe said. "The last time I was there was for the national championship game for Oregon and Auburn (in January 2011). The way they set it up there was fantastic. The fans are going to realize that it's very fan-friendly. It will be good ticket prices, it will be great seat availability. The people at the Fiesta Bowl have been so good and so hospitable about putting this together and letting BYU and Arizona put together a great event."
"This is big-time competition, it's a big-time place to play," Lewis said about the game at University of Phoenix Stadium. "For us to play in a pro stadium, it's going to be awesome for all the recruits coming up. They knew they'll get a chance to play down there."
The Cougars and Wildcats have met 22 times, with Arizona leading the all-time series, 12-9-1. Both schools are former members of the Western Athletic Conference.
The most recent game between BYU and Arizona occurred in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, where the Wildcats beat the Cougars, 31-21. BYU downed Arizona in 2007 in Provo, 20-7, and fell to the Wildcats in 2006 in Tucson, 16-13.
The BYU-Arizona game in Phoenix in 2016 will air live on the Pac-12 family of networks. Dates, times and the remainder of the TV coverage information for the series will be announced at a later date.
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