SALT LAKE CITY — Larry Krystkowiak feels so strongly about canceling next year’s Utah-BYU basketball game, he’s willing to personally pay the $80,000 penalty required by the contract.
In a 40-minute press conference Monday morning, he defended the controversial decision and said he’s prepared to endure the wrath of unhappy fans and critical media.
“This isn’t about me ending something that’s been going on or that I’m different,” he said, the weight of the decision evident in his demeanor. “This is no disrespect. I’ve been up a few nights through this.”
Krystkowiak opened with a statement where he said he came to the decision for a number of reasons, with the most important being the health and safety of his players.
“I am concerned about the potential for serious injury in the current atmosphere of this rivalry,” he said. “I am not implying that any individual is guilty as I understand fully that situations fueled with this much emotion can create opportunity for people to do things they regret. Compounding the problem for me is what I consider to be a lack of remorse after the behavior, both in things said and left unsaid, and I have no reason to believe this pattern of behavior will change on its own.”
When questioned about that, he said that while BYU coach Dave Rose verbally apologized during the postgame handshake, he was disappointed that after Cougar guard Nick Emery hit Utah’s Brandon Taylor, he stepped over him and said something to him. The coach added that when he went onto the court to address the situation a “student athlete” told him to return to the bench.
Despite the fact that Emery issued an apology the following day, as well as Rose’s postgame apology, Krystkowiak clearly expected more in the way of making amends.
He admitted that part of his motivation in asking for the cancellation is protecting himself from the “venom” of the rivalry, acknowledging that he’s a guy who has trouble backing down from confrontation.
“There’s part of this that I’m actually protecting myself from myself,” he said. “And I don’t now how I would come across with our players in the week leading up to the BYU game, maybe with a little bit of the toxin and venom that I have inside me. It puts me in a bit of a quandary. I don’t have a problem with what people think. I know what I know. I know what I feel. And I know that I’m in charge of a bunch of young men right now, and I need to talk about discipline and self-control.”
He said he wonders if the teams playing in different conferences and only meeting once a year has turned up the animosity associated with the rivalry, especially for the home teams. He suggested both schools look at neutral sites.
“I also know there are a lot of things that have been going on the last 100 years that aren’t right,” he said. “I can give you a long list. If this needs to be put on me, as I’m the coach who blew it up, as I’m the coach who couldn’t handle it, so be it.”
Krystkowiak admits that he is under no illusions that a one-year hiatus will solve the problems that he sees with the rivalry, including the risk of physical injuries to players.
“I’m not saying a year off is going to change it,” he said. “I just know what I can control is that we’re not going to play. I’m hopeful that it can. Would you agree with me that something is broken?”
After Krystkowiak's press conference, BYU President Kevin Worthen and BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe both released statements regarding the cancellation.
"I am disappointed in the University of Utah's decision to cancel the 2016 basketball game with BYU," Holmoe said. "As a former player, coach and now administrator, I believe BYU-Utah is one of the great college rivalries in the country. It is bigger than any of the individual participants and should be played every year. We value the longstanding relationship with Utah and are hopeful the basketball series, which has been played for more than a century, will continue on a yearly basis in the very near future. I believe the game is important to the players, coaches, alumni and fans."
Worthen's statement said he was disappointed the game wouldn't be played, but praised the efforts to try to find ways to create a better atmosphere for all of the student athletes and fans.
"We appreciate the plans President Pershing has in place to establish a working group at the University of Utah to identify changes that can be made to ensure future athletic contests are respectful for all," Worthen said. "We too have worked to identify where changes can be made, and we will continue these efforts. Our hope is that both schools can work together to achieve our shared goals."
Krystkowiak, who paid the first installment of the financial penalty Monday, had support from both athletic director Chris Hill, who attended the press conference, and University of Utah President David Pershing.
Hill met with media after the press conference, and said he knew the decision would be unpopular with fans and media, but he reiterated that he will always back his coaches if he feels they’re right.
“I wasn’t surprised it was going to be a difficult event,” he said. “But if you have a decision and you feel it’s the right decision, sometimes the hardest thing is to follow through. We talked quite a bit about (other options), but at the end of the day, we support Larry’s decision. That’s how we feel.”
He said he hopes administrators from both schools can come up with some ways to defuse the situation.
“Let’s get this right so it can continue for a long time,” Hill said.
Pershing issued a statement saying that “while we respect and value the rivalry between our athletic programs, several negative aspects have emerged over the last several years that need to be addressed. I have had the opportunity to speak to BYU President Kevin Worthen about this issue. We are committed to working together to make this historic rivalry a healthier one.”
Krystkowiak began his press conference Monday with a reminder that he is “a basketball coach” with his primary responsibility being the development of the young men in his program.
“I have always been a big fan of rivalries,” he said. “That’s probably one of my favorite parts of college sports. I also believe I would not be doing my job to look out for the well-being of the players in our program if I didn’t have reason to pause and concern over the nature of some of the recent games.”