Two weeks after Utah athletic director Chris Hill completed the most significant football scheduling agreement of his 25-year tenure, we now know why he booked that series with Michigan.
Hill just wanted to defeat my argument regarding Utah vs. BYU.
In May, I wrote that Hill could not use the proposed alliance between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten as a strength-of-schedule reason to interrupt the rivalry, because the Utes would not be facing the likes of Michigan or Ohio State.
So, of course, he schedules Michigan.
I’m not dissuaded.
Look, Michigan is the flagship school of my home state, Michigan Stadium is No. 1 on my list of sports venues I need to experience, and having the Wolverines play a season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium is good stuff.
I wanted both Michigan and BYU on Utah’s schedule, that’s all. And to those who claim they’ve moved beyond the rivalry game and won’t miss it, my response is simple: Yes, you will. The rivalry is not merely a media creation — it’s part of the fabric of this state. That’s why there’s a car with a “54TEN” vanity license plate.
Hill is the most persuasive person I know, combining doctoral-level education with New Jersey-rooted argumentation. He was as shrewd as ever Tuesday during an informal media briefing, couching the news about the series being discontinued in 2014-15 with the promise of games to be played in ’13 and ’16, enabling him to say he’s “not killing the rivalry.”
He applied this logic: Counting nine conference games and Michigan, that’s 10 high-quality opponents (of 12).
“I can’t expect us to play 11 really, really difficult games in a season,” Hill said.
In 2012, Oregon State is playing Wisconsin, Nicholls State and BYU. Washington is playing LSU, San Diego State and Portland State. UCLA is playing Rice, Nebraska and Houston. How are those schedules not comparable to Utah’s playing Michigan, BYU and anybody else in ’14 or ’15?
Hill and coach Kyle Whittingham say they’re doing what’s best for the program. That’s fine. They also have to live with some side effects, including accusations that they’re dodging BYU and, even worse, validating BYU. Hill talks about an “A, B and C” nonconference scheduling philosophy, like he’s arranging a golf scramble team, and he’s categorizing BYU as an “A” player.
So the Utes will substitute some school like Idaho or Colorado State for BYU. Is that a significant enough balancing of the schedule to really make a difference in Pac-12 play?
There’s just no reason the Utes shouldn’t play BYU every season, from 2016 forward. By 2017, the Utes will have had six years as Pac-12 members. They should be superior enough to BYU that they win three of every four games in the series.
Hill accurately observed that the rivalry feels different in September, but being in a different league is all the more reason for Utah to play BYU. Let’s be honest: Ute fans are going to compare these teams’ performances every week, so why not have 60 minutes of actual competition?
Things change; I understand that. The Utah-Utah State series once was more meaningful than Utah-BYU, and that tradition long ago ran its course. But saying the same about Utah-BYU is just not true.