Senator says Utah law should force Utes to play Aggies
Utah college basketball teams could get whistled for a foul if they don't play enough in-state games.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, an avid Utah State Aggies fan, wants the Legislature to mandate that state-funded colleges and universities play at least three games a year against other Utah schools.
If they don't, they could be hit with a fine.
"If they're not willing to help the other schools with economic development and getting big crowds out, maybe they ought to contribute some of the money so it could be spread among the other schools and make up some of that loss," said Hillyard, R-Logan.
Hillyard had asked legislative attorneys to draft a bill to enact the mandate but dropped it because time was running out in the 2011 session.
His proposal would essentially guarantee that the rivalry between Utah State and the University of Utah continues, despite much-publicized comments earlier this year from U. coach Jim Boylen that he didn't want the Utes to play the Aggies.
Boylen has since been fired, but Hillyard still wants to explore the potential arrangement and has asked the Legislature's Education Interim Committee to study the issue, and he may bring it back when the Legislature convenes next year.
Hillyard said the idea came to him when he was in Orem watching Utah State play Utah Valley University in a packed stadium, while up north in Salt Lake City the U. had thousands of empty seats for its game with an out-of-state opponent.
That night, Utah Valley had a record crowd of 7,124 see the Wolverines lose to the Aggies. Utah lost to Boise State a night earlier and had attendance of 7,700 about half the Jon M. Huntsman Center's capacity.
A game against Brigham Young would count for one of the state school's three matchups, but because BYU is not a publicly funded university, it would not be bound by the law.
The senator said it makes sense to him to try to foster the in-state rivalries even if that means a mandate from the Legislature. Ideally, he said, he would like to see an in-state college basketball tournament.
Utah State athletics director Scott Barnes said he believes Hillyard's idea has "real merit."
"It would help protect one aspect of intercollegiate athletics that is beginning to diminish before our eyes with the recent nationwide conference shuffle, that is, the importance of in-state and regional games," Barnes said in a statement. "These events are critical in fostering healthy in-state rivalries, keeping money in state and assisting in travel cost containment."
U. athletic director Chris Hill said he discussed the issue briefly with Hillyard during the session.
"I think that we're a little uncertain. The issue for us is mandating some away game," said Hill, who said he is still trying to work out how much scheduling flexibility the U. will have as it moves into the PAC-12 Conference.
"Without knowing exactly what he's proposing, I don't know how much it will affect us. I would want us to have a thorough discussion before it's implemented," Hill said.