The BYU/Utah rivalry is known to some as the Holy War, and to a certain credit union as “the duel”. It has traditionally been the marquee game on the schedule of both teams. It has decided the outcome of more conference championships than I care to look up. The teams together have combined for nearly 50 conference championships, a national championship, two BCS bowl wins, 6 perfect seasons, and a Heisman Trophy winner.
The Cougars and Utes have grown together. Both have had their program ups and downs. And while certainly each program has enough pride to be self-motivated toward being good on the field, I think this rivalry has made these teams great.
Year in and year out, there is no other game on the schedule that means as much as this one. It doesn’t matter how good your team is, if you’re not good enough to beat the one “up north” or “down south”, you’re not good enough that year. And a loss or two in the Holy War is plenty of motivation for improvement. These teams do not like to lose to each other. In fact, they HATE it.
The fire behind the rivalry is fueled by many things. BYU is a private, religious university, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Utah is a public university. While there are members of the LDS church (Mormons) on both sides of the rivalry, many view as the Mormons vs. the non-Mormons, the pious vs. raucous, the teetotalers vs…well you get the picture. There’s more going on than in even your average rivalry game.
It doesn’t help that the schools are fewer than 50 miles apart and the fanbases overlap (though Salt Lake Valley is decidedly more Ute-heavy and Utah Valley more Cougar-heavy).
The flames have been fanned over the years by players, coaches, and fans on both sides. At times these incidents have consisted of physical attacks, at other times they have been insidious statements simply intended to upset the other side. In most cases, it has worked as intended. Regardless of the various sources, parties on both sides can agree that the rivalry has gone too far at times.
The existing hate and incendiary nature of the meetings between these two teams has actually alienated some of each fan base. There are those that attempt to avoid any interactions with opposing fans during Rivalry Week; some withdraw from social media because they don’t want to deal with it.
And that’s where there is something wrong with the rivalry.
Because in the end, it’s still just a game, played by kids. It’s a game we love to watch. It’s a game the players and coaches are excited about playing. It’s the highlight of my season. It’s the highlight of my BYU fandom.
Two years ago, it was announced that Utah would be joining the PAC12, and BYU later announced that it would be going Independent. For the first time in longer than I’ve been alive, BYU and Utah would not be in a conference together.
Immediately the question came to mind, “What about the Rivalry?” Certainly both schools would be interested in playing it, but with a new 9-game conference schedule for Utah that now did not already include the Cougars, would the Utes be able to include them?
But include them they did, and Utah and BYU scheduled a quick home-and-home series (by the way, I think that’s a stupid name for it, you should just call it a home-and-away series so the implication is a venue change) to keep the rivalry going through 2012.
In July of this year, Chris Hill, the Utah AD, announced an additional two games for the series, one in Provo in 2013, and a return game in Utah in 2016. And everybody freaked out. For more on that, go back and read this post.
They freaked out because of the obviously vacant 2014 and 2015. Well I’m not freaking out yet. Why not? Simply because the 2013 game (next season) wasn’t even scheduled until this July. So there is actually plenty of time to get those games on the schedule if the schools choose to do it (and they do have common open dates in both years). Remember, scheduling a 2016 game doesn’t preclude games in 2014 and 2015. It just means 2016 was easier to schedule as a partner for 2013. I’m choosing to give it time.
And if it turns out we end up with a two year break one of two things could happen. First, the overboard, incendiary side of the rivalry may have lost some of its edge, and the game will be more enjoyable for all, and move forward. Alternatively, the rivalry will simply diminish altogether, be played in 2016, and then go away.
I certainly am not in favor of the latter, and I do not find it likely, but it is a possibility. I think it’s much more likely that both fans and athletic departments will find that not playing the game leaves a gaping hole in the schedule, and they will scramble to get it back. The great rivalries are not built in a season or two, and I truly believe this one would be deeply missed. So I think a break of 1-2 years would actually lead to a long term contract down the road.
For now the future of the rivalry remains uncertain. It will be played on Saturday. It will be played in Provo next year, and in Salt Lake in 2016. In between that and beyond that only a few people truly have any idea. But these teams grew up as brothers. They have each made the other program stronger, and I think time will bear out that they simply cannot be separated.