It's irrational. Ludicrous in its exaggerated importance. But the Utah-BYU football rivalry also is a lot of fun, mostly because of the many Utah cultural crosscurrents it represents. It would be a shame to lose it.
Chris Hill, the University of Utah athletic director, put the future of the rivalry in jeopardy this week when he announced that his school would not schedule a football game against Brigham Young University in 2014 and 2015.
Say it ain't so, Chris. The end of the Utah-BYU football rivalry is, well, inconceivable. It would be one of the classic blunders, on par with fighting a land war in Asia.
The two teams have been bashing each other around the gridiron annually since 1922. The only previous hiatus in the series came during World War II, when BYU didn't field a team from 1943 to 1945. That's history, fans.
But it's the cultural contexts that give the contest its edge. It's a metaphor for the cultural divides of Utah: Mormon vs. non-Mormon; rich Mormon vs. poor Mormon; sacred vs. secular; church vs. state. It's no accident that the game has come to be known as the Holy War.
At a BYU game during the Bill Meek era at Utah (he was a coach), some Utah students put up a large sign in the end zone at Ute Stadium that said, "Yea, the Lamanites shall smite the Brethren." Outside the Beehive State and Mormon culture, no one would get that taunt.
But it goes even deeper. A few Utah families include players from both schools. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham played for BYU. Players sometimes look across the line of scrimmage at a cousin or a former teammate from high school.
People write in their obituaries that they root for Utah and anyone who is playing BYU. Vanity license plates say things like "34-31," a memorable score in the series.
Hill insists, however, that now that Utah is part of the Pac-12, it must take the opportunity to schedule schools other than BYU. It also has to leave a nonconference game for a patsy that the Utes can beat up on, he says. But the Utes should take care not to let the Pac-12 go to their heads. The Greeks knew something about hubris. Chris Hill should know that. He's an academic, and a bright one.
The irony is that it was the excellence of the BYU football program under retired coach LaVell Edwards that motivated Utah to improve its moribund football program, beginning the ascent that culminated in the invitation for the Utes to join the Pac-12.
Chris Hill deserves a good deal of the credit for that rise. But he has made the wrong call by putting the intrastate rivalry in jeopardy.