SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah athletics director Chris Hill caused quite a stir last summer when he announced that his school's rivalry game against BYU would not be played in 2014 and 2015, interrupting a football series that has been staged every year since 1946.
While the Utes and Cougars are scheduled to play on Sept. 21 in Provo and on Sept. 10, 2016 in Salt Lake City, the future of the series has been in question for a while.
Hill created another stir Tuesday when he announced, via YouTube, that Utah is in the process of scheduling a new series with BYU, starting in 2017, that includes a November game in 2018 — pending Pac-12 approval.
"It seems that wherever I go during the summer, our fans and the BYU fans are interested in when we're going to play BYU in the future and where it's going to unfold," Hill said on YouTube. "I can assure you that (BYU athletic director) Tom Holmoe and I have had many discussions and we're very close to signing a contract. It looks like in 2017 we'll be playing in the early part of September, and in an unusual situation in 2018, we'll be playing the last game of the year. This is an opportunity for us to help the league by making sure that nobody has to play 12 games in a row. ... That gives us an opportunity to play BYU at the end of the year. We'll get a final approval from the league in early August, and then we'll make a formal announcement, if not sooner."
Hill later told the Deseret News that “we haven’t signed (a contract with BYU) yet, but we will sign it, hopefully soon. It still has to be approved by the Pac-12, but that’s not going to be an issue.’’
Holmoe was not available to comment on Hill’s announcement Tuesday. However, during BYU's media day June 26, Holmoe hinted that news about the rivalry game could be imminent.
“The break (in the series) will be two years. Then I feel very secure that we’ll have a game,” Holmoe said. “This relationship with Utah behind the scenes is really good. Sometimes the fans will wrestle in the streets, but for us, we are very diligent in making this happen. I would say in the very near future, we’ll have a game after the hiatus, and we’ll have a series in place.”
Holmoe also said that day that the Pac-12’s policy prohibiting the scheduling of nonconference games in November is changing.
“There are some things that are unfolding with conferences and traditional games,” Holmoe said. “We’ve been fortunate enough, working with ESPN and the Pac-12 Conference, to try to make this kind of a symbiotic relationship, where it works for us, and it works for them. We’re working with the Pac-12 right now on some other possible games that hopefully we can announce down the road.”
During BYU’s media day, Holmoe announced that the Cougars will play a three-game series with USC — also a member of the Pac-12 — in 2019, 2021 and 2023, which features two contests in November.
Hill told the Deseret News that BYU also has an upcoming series with another Pac-12 foe, Stanford, beginning in 2020, though that’s not something that BYU has announced or confirmed.
When asked about the Pac-12’s policy change, Hill said that the league has a “Notre Dame exception” for USC and Stanford to play later in the year.
In 13-week college football seasons, some teams would be forced to play 12 straight weeks without a bye, so the Pac-12 will allow other teams to play a late nonconference game so they could get a bye earlier in the season.
In normal 14-week seasons, it isn’t an issue, Hill explained, because there are two possible bye weeks. Playing BYU later “assures us of not having to play 12 straight weeks,” Hill added.
As for the 2017 game in Provo, Hill said there are two possible weekends to play, but he’s “waiting for BYU to tell me which day would work best.’’
Hill added that playing BYU in the future has “always been our full intention. All of us understand the importance of the Utah-BYU game for many, many reasons. We’re moving forward. We want people to understand we’re moving in the right direction for everybody.’’
Why did Hill decide to make Tuesday’s big announcement on YouTube?
“People have asked and we thought we’d get the word out,” Hill said. “We thought this would be a different way to get something out. That’s all. We like to do it in a lot of different ways.’’
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company