The BYU-Utah rivalry is one of the country’s most heated rivalries — even if the teams aren’t scheduled to play.
Currently, the two schools are taking a two-year hiatus from their football rivalry and Utah athletic director Chris Hill told the Deseret News why he wasn’t concerned about the Utes not playing their in-state rival.
Deseret News: Given the controversy it stirred up, do you ever revisit your decision to not play BYU in football every year?
Chris Hill: Not too much. The deep, dark dirty secret is our fans are not disappointed. That’s a hard thing to say, right? There are three groups. There’s our fans, who say it’s only two years (off), we get to play Michigan here, it’s not like every year we’re not going to play them, it’s not that big a deal. Then there’s the media, bless their hearts, but it kills their self-serving jobs. What are you going to talk about on the radio if you don’t have the BYU-Utah game? What are you going to write about? And of course BYU wants us to play every year. But my job is what’s in the best interest of the University of Utah, and the Michigan game this year at our place will be the most-watched game out of Salt Lake City ever.
Of course, this caused a stir across the state and prompted Gordon Monson, who was appearing on 1280 AM’s “DJ and PK Show” to spew some vitriol Hill’s way.
“He’s full of it. He’s absolutely full of it,” Monson told the show. “His comments were self-serving to him, and for him to say that the media wants it because they have nothing else to talk about is absolute BS.
“Chris Hill flat-out lied.”
Monson also noted that every poll he’s ever seen about the game has shown that Utah fans are for the continuation of the rivalry.
Hill sent out a statement Tuesday afternoon defending his comments to the Deseret News and defending himself from Monson.
The statement read in part:
I was very disappointed at the inflammatory statements made today by a local radio host toward me personally in regards to the Utah-BYU football rivalry and I feel it is important to shed some light on the topic.
The message I have received loud and clear from Utah season ticket holders is that they support our decision to take a two-year hiatus from the BYU rivalry in order to play Michigan at our place. .
With a nine-game Pac-12 Conference schedule, we are not going to hand our football coach and team a non-conference schedule with Michigan, Utah State and BYU in the same year. Utah State and BYU are very good teams and instate games take an emotional toll that could impact our success in Pac-12 play. .
The Michigan game is attracting more national publicity than we’ve had for maybe any non-conference home game in our history. There is a tremendous excitement surrounding the game from our fans. We anticipate it will also draw the largest TV audience we’ve had for a game televised from Rice-Eccles Stadium. .
Hill also noted that he and BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe already are talking about future dates starting with already scheduled games in 2016, 2017 and 2018, but also signing contracts for games in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
This isn’t the first time suspending this rivalry has caused a stir.
Coach Kyle Whittingham made similar comments back in 2012 as he studied the tough Pac-12 nine-game schedule.
“Bottom line is we’ve got to do what’s best for our program,” Whittingham said. “That supersedes anything to do with the rivalry. If taking a year or two off periodically is best for our program, best for our scheduling, then that’s what we’ve got to do.
“Our program is bigger than the rivalry. That’s got to take a backseat to us doing what’s best for our program.”
Whittingham received nearly the same angered response Hill got and ultimately backtracked.
Fact is, fans do like this rivalry. It is one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football and with so many rivalries falling by the wayside for dumb reasons, it would be a shame to see this one disappear as well.
That said, BYU needs this game far more than Utah does simply because the Cougars’ schedule as an Independent hasn’t reached a level that is commanding a lot of respect nationally. That’s not to say BYU won’t ultimately achieve that level, but finding a schedule full of quality high-level opponents is difficult and a game with Utah, which is definitely on an upslope, would ease that burden.
But as other teams in the Power Five conference start to beef up their nonconference schedules, Utah is going to need a game like BYU — and maybe even another Power Five opponent — to bolster its schedule so it can compete in the rankings with some of the top teams in the country, including a few in its own conference.
For more Utah news, visit Utezone.com.
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