SALT LAKE CITY — And you thought Utah and BYU didn’t get along before.
How about now, when one of them is taking its basketball and going home?
So the Utes and Cougars won’t be playing next year in hoops, and probably for the foreseeable future. That much became public Wednesday, when each school issued a news release.
The official explanation according to the Utes: Somebody could get hurt.
Unofficial explanation: BYU plays dirty.
The Cougars’ official explanation: Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak uninvited them to the party.
Unofficial explanation: The Utes can’t take a punch.
So the seventh-oldest rivalry in America is taking only its second break since 1909. Don’t hold your breath about a reunion tour. Though Utah athletics director Chris Hill said Utah and BYU will revisit the rivalry “at some point in the future,” that could be long after the sun burns out.
Right now they’re getting along like the Koreas.
The impetus behind it was an incident at last month’s game at the Huntsman Center, when Cougar guard Nick Emery punched Utah’s Brandon Taylor with about two minutes remaining. The blow appeared glancing and did no serious damage. But Krystkowiak said Wednesday that he called BYU’s Dave Rose a few days later and said he wanted to interrupt the series, giving things a chance to cool.
It certainly didn’t seem to have that effect.
It made things worse.
Rose disagreed with Krystkowiak, saying in a BYU news release that “our students, our players, our fans and college basketball fans in the Intermountain area want to see this longstanding rivalry continue.”
Here’s assuming the conversation between coaches wasn’t nearly that cordial.
Rose told media on Wednesday he was “shocked” the Utes backed out of a contractual agreement.
“This doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” he said.
Last month’s incident, however scary, wasn’t the first. In 1977, Utah’s Buster Matheney got ejected in a game for punching BYU’s Jay Cheesman in the head. Cheesman was wearing a protective mask from a previous injury. In 1996, BYU’s Nate Cooper committed a hard foul on the Utes’ Keith Van Horn, who responded with a harder elbow, drawing a technical.
Who knows how many skirmishes there were in the era before television and YouTube?
Krystkowiak reminded the media after last month’s incident that BYU’s Eric Mika was ejected on a flagrant 2 foul in a 2013 game against the Utes.
But in none of the aforementioned cases was anyone seriously injured.
While a split might seem good momentarily, it won’t feel good in the long term. Not in a state where basketball ruled for the better part of a century. BYU leads the all-time series 129-128. The only break in its history was during World War II.
Maybe this will be the start of World War III.
It certainly won’t help the feelings for next September’s football game. While a BYU-Utah football pairing, at the moment, is critical to only one school (BYU), basketball is different. Neither team needs the other, since both are in conferences. But college basketball badly needs it. For a sport that struggles nationally to get noticed until March, rivalry games like Utah-BYU are an excuse to grab some attention.
Some are suggesting the situation might be diffused and games resumed by playing an in-state tournament at Vivint Arena and including USU and Weber State. But dirty play doesn’t necessarily take a break at neutral sites.
Besides, off-campus college games are like eating salt substitute.
Regardless, the Utes came off looking bad by bailing out. There are bigger, more dangerous rivalries than this one. BYU bears just as much risk in these games as do Utah players.
Cancel games over overwrought “escalated” emotion?
There must be fans in the Big East saying, “Huh?”
If teams start canceling games over bad blood, high emotions and even dirty play, forget about Duke-North Carolina. Forget about Georgia Southern-Georgia State, for that matter.
They can let their debate teams settle the score.
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