With one sanctimonious stroke, Chris Hill, Larry Krystkowiak and David Pershing are refusing to play BYU in basketball. You get the feeling that the Utes, puffed up by their Pac-12 membership, think they’re too good for their neighbors, and others seem to share that sentiment.
Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis, while coming down hard against the Utes for canceling the basketball game with BYU, recently wrote this: “Though the rivalry has been amazingly even (after all these years, BYU leads 129-128), there is no doubt Utah is the big brother right now, especially since it moved to a Power 5 conference.”
That is highly debatable, and it doesn’t take much research to see why. Yes, BYU has lost three straight to Utah, but the Cougars have won 11 of the last 15 games with the Utes and one of their losses was in overtime.
The Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, which is widely respected and quoted, offers another way to quantify the comparison. BYU has ranked ahead of Utah in the final Pomeroy rankings 11 times in 14 years and it’s not even close — average ranking: BYU 51.4, Utah 91.7. In the current Pomeroy Ratings, BYU is 55th, Utah 66th.
In the less-respected RPI rankings — now in its sixth year — BYU has outranked Utah four of five seasons — average ranking: BYU 37.6, Utah 125.6.
Since 2000, BYU has qualified for the NCAA Tournament 11 times and Utah seven times. More recently, since 2005, BYU has finished the regular season ranked in the top 25 five times, compared to three for Utah.
The Utes also have refused to schedule the Cougars in football the last two years — another sport in which it is widely assumed they are superior. The Utes have won 10 of the last 13 head-to-head meetings and that’s certainly a strong indication of superiority, but since, in the end, the strange world of college football relies heavily on the polls to evaluate teams, let’s consult a couple of those.
In the Sagarin rankings — another widely respected rating system — BYU has ranked ahead of Utah five times in the last 11 years and owns a slight edge in average ranking during that time: BYU 36.7, Utah 36.8.
The Massey rankings is probably a better indicator because it compiles the averages of 115 ranking services. In the Massey compilation, BYU has a better average ranking for the last 11 years — BYU 36.0, Utah 38.7 — and has ranked ahead of Utah six of those years.
While we’re at it, a comparison between the schools’ overall athletic programs indicates that BYU is the better program and always has been. At the end of each school year, the so-called Director’s Cup ranking is compiled based on each school’s finish in the various sports. In 22 years, BYU has never ranked behind Utah. The average ranking: BYU 31, Utah 63. The Utes have finished in the top 50 only once (they were 37th in 1998), and who knows how bad they would rank if not for the women’s gymnastics team.
On the athletic field and off, the Cougars are a strong opponent for the Utes, and, potentially, a sleeping giant if they can improve their conference situation. The Utes have found a convenient way to cut ties with BYU basketball — they blamed it on a BYU player punching a Utah player — and they had already done so in football (although they are scheduled to meet again next fall). In echoing sentiments expressed in this newspaper, Davis suggested ulterior motives:
“ The fact that (coach Larry) Krystkowiak (with the support of his athletic director, Chris Hill, and his president, David Pershing) chose to take an axe to the series leads the cynic in me to believe that this is not really about protecting his players at all. It’s about gaining a competitive edge Utah and BYU compete for many of the same recruits, so Utah has very little incentive to give BYU this kind of platform That’s why BYU coach Dave Rose voiced such displeasure at Krystkowiak’s decision. He needs this game more than Krystkowiak does, and they both know it. If the desire to seek a competitive advantage was part of Krystkowiak’s reasoning, then he should say so. To do otherwise isn’t just foolish, it’s disingenuous.”
The Utes also have eliminated games with the other instate schools, perhaps with similar motives. Instead of playing BYU, Utah State and Weber State in home-and-home games each season, as they once did, the Utes are playing Delaware, College of Idaho, Savannah State, South Dakota State, North Dakota, Alabama State. No wonder they weren’t ready for conference play this season. The Utes are 2-3 in the Pac-12.
Pershing, perhaps to mollify the outcry regarding Utah's decision to drop BYU, said recently that the Utes want to schedule a couple of instate opponents each year in the future. Meanwhile, the state's basketball fans have been the real losers in this business.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org