So, you're a graduate of one university, the president of another and the two schools that share your affections are meeting on the football field this Saturday.

Which team do you root for?

It's a quandary facing new University of Utah president Michael K. Young, a graduate of Brigham Young University, and BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson, a U. graduate and U. employee from 1973 to 1990. When Samuelson left the U., he was senior vice president for health sciences.

Hard to say whether the blood flows crimson or blue in their veins.

"The idea that a person has to dislike one university to support another is nonsensical," said Samuelson, who as a former founding member of the Crimson Club at the U. has been particularly sensitive about the subject. "We are not ashamed of our fond memories of the U., nor are Sharon and I quiet about our exuberance for BYU."

But more on the rivalry in a moment. First, these guys have schools to run.

Young is in California this week with the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

"We're thinking mostly about budgets," Young said Monday while in San Diego. And he's thinking about how to "educate students."

Samuelson is on campus, closer to the rivalry week hype, but he's hunkered down in routine meetings with vice presidents and involved in the International World Fest, which BYU is hosting this week.

Despite the responsibilities, Young can't help but get into the big game — not with ESPN coming to town, and with the U. a perfect 10-0 on the season and ranked sixth in the BCS (Bowl Championship Series). Plus, it's his first administrative taste of the much ballyhooed "holy war" on the gridiron.

To further complicate things, Young, a distant relative of Brigham Young, has a brother who is a "dyed-in-the-wool" BYU fan. It will make for a "very tense" Thanksgiving dinner, Young said, tongue-in-cheek.

Samuelson has the same problem, with a brother and a son who are tremendous Utah fans. When LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley surprised Samuelson by asking him to switch teams, Samuelson's son, C.O., said his fondest memories with his dad were going to U. games.

"We're a Utah family and always have been," he said.

That's when the disturbing side to the rivalry bothers both presidents.

"I think there are people who occasionally invest the universities and the success of their teams with a certain moral authority," Young said. "That's too bad."

"It should be healthy and balanced," Samuelson said, "with fans never losing perspective that this is an athletic competition."

The more healthy, fun aspect of the rivalry is that it gives people a connection to the university, Young said.

So, is Young missing a little competitive fire here? Not quite.

"It's perfectly appropriate for us to expect to beat their brains out on the football field," Young said.

To answer the burning question, then, yeah, Young will be rooting for the U.

Because it's been so long since he graduated from BYU, Young said the connection to his alma mater these days is "tenuous." So, no outward signs of allegiance, like a red shirt and blue tie for that ever-so-diplomatic approach.

In fact, Young was so bold as to say there may be two presidents rooting for the U.

Um, Mr. Samuelson?

"I have been loyal wherever I've been."

So does BYU have a chance?

"I'm always optimistic."

Lest academic standings of football players become lost amid all the cheering, there's even a little bragging going on about classroom prowess.

Check out these stats: U. quarterback Alex Smith

already has one degree in economics — with a GPA of 3.74 — and is working on another; U. safety Morgan Scalley is in the MBA program with a 3.96 GPA; and defensive end Reza Williams, GPA of 3.88, is also on track for an MBA.

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"If I had to put my money down, I'd take Alex (Smith) and Morgan (Scalley) and our boys over theirs," said Chris Reilly, U. director of academic services for athletics.

No disrespect to BYU players, he quickly added.

But BYU's team isn't far behind in the classroom with academic stars of its own. Three players — Brandon Heaney, Hanale Vincent and Daniel Marquardt — already have received their undergraduate degrees. And Marquardt is working to earn a master's degree in business administration on the side.

"I am proud of the courageous effort of many of our players," Samuelson said, "both on and off the field."


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com; twalch@desnews.com