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SALT LAKE CITY — Just in case the BYU-Utah rivalry wasn't intense enough, maybe this will help: Utah says it's pulling out.
Not immediately, not entirely and not permanently. At least not yet. But it's leaving nonetheless. Ute athletics director Chris Hill announced Tuesday that Utah will play BYU this year and next, before taking a two-year break. The schools will resume the rivalry — if it's still called that — in 2016.
"We know they aren't happy," Hill told media members at his annual "State of the Utes" luncheon.
So there will be bad feelings around here for a long time, maybe worse than when they met annually. BYU fans are furious the Utes won't help the Cougars out with their scheduling problems. Utah fans are asking what's in it for them. This will mark the first break since World War II.
BYU records say the rivalry has been going on since 1922; Utah says the first game was in 1896.
You expect these guys to get along?
If I were BYU and Utah, I wouldn't want anything to do with one another.
I'd act like the other guy wasn't in the room.
This is a considerable departure for me. I used to think the Utah-BYU rivalry was for eternity, sort of like "Bonanza" reruns. Since the mid-1990s, nobody has delivered a better annual game. It did get mean, but that's what happens with real rivalries. They always go too far.
I imagine the upcoming games will be great, maybe as intense as ever. But in light of Tuesday's announcement, I have to wonder: Why play at all?
Why Utah would want to altogether stop playing BYU is obvious. With nine Pac-12 games and one Big Ten game in upcoming seasons, do the Utes really want to schedule the Cougars? They already have 10 possible losses, they don't need an 11th.
"I can't expect us to play 11 really, really difficult games in a season," Hill said.
That's odd, because BYU expects it.
At the same time, if I were BYU, I'd draw a line in the sand. I know all about scheduling problems as an independent, but the Cougars don't want to end up playing Utah on its terms alone. Right now all games are still on a home-and-home basis. But it may not be long before the Utes request 2-for-1s, to make their schedule less demanding.
Utah could end up saying, "We'll play you when we get around to it."
BYU has shown it can schedule high-profile teams. Texas, Georgia Tech, Boise State, Oregon State, Nebraska and Notre Dame, to name some. In fact, BYU has been scheduling those types of teams since the 1980s.
Right now it needs Utah to help keep its schedule strong, but at some point it might need to tell Utah to take a flying leap off a high cliff. The Ute-Cougar game is in September, but that's actually a time when BYU has a fairly easy time scheduling games. It's November when it really needs a friend.
For a program that dominated the rivalry for a quarter century, there's only so much conceding BYU can accept.
Meanwhile, Hill and BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe are saying the game will continue.
"Our intent is to continue to schedule BYU unless unusual circumstances dictate otherwise," Hill said in a news release. "In no way does this signal an end to the rivalry."
Although it probably should.
"I understand that Utah has some challenges with scheduling, but as I have indicated on several occasions, it is our preference to play the game every year," Holmoe said in a statement of his own. "In the future, I know we can find a way to make that happen."
One thing seems certain: This won't quietly fade away. More likely it will die angrily. BYU fans will forever say they were sold out by their longtime colleague. Utah fans will say their team has bigger matters to address.
The whole thing is starting to look like the end of a long, rough marriage. At some point you have to ask why you're saving the union when you're only making one another miserable.
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