Monson: Renewing BYU-Utah rivalry game a lesson learned the hard way
Every young person of my generation heard, at one time or another, counsel from a parent or grandparent that could be compacted into a quick, hard-hitting bit of advice. And there were a lot of those bits, advice for every occasion. It was as though someone had written a handy little guide, a book of parental declarations, with all of them ready to be drawn out of the holster, for both everyday and emergency use.
Ask anyone over the age of 40 there are a thousand examples. Everything from "Look with your eyes, not your hands" to "Nothing worth having comes easy" to "Always wear clean underwear out of the house because you never know when you might be in an accident."
One of my dad's favorites was: "Hey, hey, careful, you're going to poke your eye out with that thing."
My response: "Dad, it's a balloon."
Chris Hill got poked in the eye by one of those declarative statements this past year: "There's a hard way to learn things and an easy way. The easier way is â¦ easier."
He learned the hard way that the Utah-BYU rivalry should not be jerked around. It doesn't matter if you have a fantastic opportunity to play ball in the Pac-12 or to play out-of-conference opponents like Michigan. It doesn't matter how tough your conference schedule is or how much pressure you're feeling to recapture winning seasons by playing dogs. It doesn't matter how your A, B and C opponents are lining up or if outside uninitiated voices are telling you that the whole thing isn't that big a deal.
It is a big deal to the people who matter most: the residents of Utah.
Hill deserves criticism and has gotten plenty of it for not realizing that all along. But he also deserves credit for living and learning and making the thing right again. And learn he has, as was evidenced by his announcement this past week via YouTube that the Utes and Cougars rivalry game is back on after a ridiculous two-year hiatus in 2014 and 2015 that never should have been put into effect.
BYU and Utah have been playing football against one another for the better part of a century. They have played football for decades longer than Hill has been alive. The universities were founded by the same man. They are located a mere 40 miles apart. There are cultural similarities and differences between them, connections and disconnections. When the schools' teams face off, emotion flows freely. The annual game has become the rock of sporting events in this state, the single best sports day of the year, the day when people who care about football care even more deeply and people who don't follow the sport tune in anyway. Families are divided by their rooting interests, work places are split, congregations are separated. With all but a few knuckleheads who temporarily lose their minds, it's a beautiful thing.
It took a World War to interrupt the series the first time. And, then, it was needlessly halted the second for reasons that never made sense, one of which was Utah didn't want to overschedule. At present, the Utes had a chance to play Michigan, and going forward might have a shot at other new and exciting opponents.
"The reality is," Hill said back then, "we have an unusual opportunity and we had to do what was best for the student-athletes." He also said: "I can't expect us to play 11 really, really difficult games in a season."
So, instead, Utah lined up, along with the Wolverines in 2014, Idaho State and Fresno State. In 2015, after Michigan, the Utes' sked featured Utah State and Fresno State. Question: Is playing Fresno a good enough reason not to play BYU? Only a fool would answer in the affirmative.
Then, on Tuesday, as Hill announced a renewal of BYU-Utah games in 2017 and 2018, he said, "The reality is, we have always intended to play. The exception was for a couple of years, but we understand how important it is. It is a powerful rivalry."
Not sure Hill really did understand until he was bombarded by negative reaction from fans, boosters, students, media members and most everybody else, in the aftermath of his decision to put the game on ice. And on the heels of a news conference held the previous week regarding mistakes the athletics director made through a scandal afflicting Utah's swim program, he seemed eager to make public some positive news, news that never should have been necessary.
But a lesson learned the hard way was learned, nonetheless:
Don't mess with the Utah-BYU rivalry game.
Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.