Gordon Monson: Let’s cut through the BS — Utah and BYU should play football against each other every year

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) looks to hand off as Brigham Young University (BYU) hosts the University of Utah, NCAA football in Provo on Thursday Aug. 29, 2019.

Tradition is being disrespected by the powers that be at the University of Utah.

There are all kinds of excuses to make for that disrespect, a few even that sound semi-logical, but they are excuses, still.

Utah and BYU should play every year in football.



Because they always have.

That’s a good enough reason right there, overriding any rationale for doing otherwise, any self-aggrandizing smart thinking by some Johnny Come Lately who believes he’s smarter than everyone who came before, who figures tradition in this case should be swept aside by progression, by his brilliance, by the trash talk of a few fans.

No. No it should not.

It’s a matter of priority, and this is one that, come what may, should be honored. it doesn’t matter who’s got the upper hand of late and who has the lower one, who’s on any kind of winning streak and who is losing, who is seen as the more powerful program in a powerful conference and who is weaker and alone.

Utah and BYU were playing football against one another long before any of the current administrators in charge at either school were born. It’s been played for nearly a century, with the exception of a few years in the middle of World War II. That’s the way it’s been, regardless of which school had the edge, which school was bigger or smaller or more prestigious or less, regardless of political climate, social and cultural and population and demographic changes.

The constant, inside of sports and out in this state, has always been the football rivalry between BYU and Utah. It’s bigger than you, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than all of us, including those who are trying to mess with it now.

The Utes bowed out of the rivalry game once before, a few years back when they decided it was more important to play Michigan. But that year, they still played Fresno State instead of BYU.

Now, the Utes are planning to play Florida in 2022 and 2023, home and away, which is a nice get for Utah AD Mark Harlan, or whoever arranged it. And BYU is getting bumped out, even though the Utes are still going to play teams like Southern Utah and San Diego State, Weber State and Baylor. BYU now will play UCF.

Florida hasn’t played an away game in forever outside of the SEC, and that’s sweet that the Gators will come to Rice-Eccles. But given that the rivalry is a priority, as both schools seem to be saying in a release that explained their position in the changes, why couldn’t the Utes have dropped the Aztecs off the schedule? In degree of difficulty, they are similar to BYU, and for those who say Utah wants to keep that game for some recruiting foothold in Southern California, that foothold is already secure since the Utes are playing USC and UCLA every season.

And playing FCS teams, god bless ‘em, is a competitive waste of time.

It might be complicated and expensive to dump certain opponents, what with their schedules being hard to move around, but, again, it’s a matter of priority.

The Utah-BYU game is important, important enough to treat it as such.

It’s the ultimate trash talk for some Ute fans to downplay the rivalry, to say Utah has gotten too big for that tradition to continue, to claim the game’s value is only to the media. That’s ridiculous. Some BYU fans said similar things back in the ‘80s, when they wanted the Cougars to bolt out of the old WAC to greener pastures, far away from Utah’s Utes. But nearly every survey taken has indicated that football fans on the whole in Utah want this game to happen. There is as much verve and pulse around BYU-Utah as there is around just about any other game, even though it has no ramifications for the Utes making a run at the Rose Bowl.

After witnessing his first rivalry game last season, Harlan, when asked about his impressions of it, said the following:

“I thought it was awesome. I thought it was a lot of excitement all day, I got a chance to walk around the tailgates, saw BYU fans, saw Utah fans, I thought everyone behaved, which is something Tom Holmoe and I really had talked about, trying to remind everybody to have some fun. Early signs of that is that it went really well. I thought it was a terrific football game. I thought Kalani did a great job of getting his guys ready. I thought it was terrific. I love the way it ended. I thought it was a great day, all the way around.”

Asked if he would continue to schedule BYU, he said: “It’s pretty much out there for many, many years to come. With that kind of energy, I don’t know why you wouldn’t continue to play that game.”

And now, the announcement comes that Florida is in and BYU is out, as though it were either one or the other, as other non-conference games remain untouched. Again, touching them might be complicated, but it’s a matter of priority. And the BYU-Utah game should be prioritized. It’s this state’s game, even if some Utah fans pompously believe the Utes have outgrown it.

League affiliation or non-affiliation shouldn’t be a factor.

Fans of each team are still neighbors. They still work in the same office together. They go to church together. They hang out together. They go to dinner together. Their kids go to school together. In some cases, those fans live together. Families are still split in their patronage. The schools are still 45 miles apart from one another.

None of that will ever change.

Utah can go on looking for marquee opponents to play, opponents in regions of the country where it likes to recruit. But the Utes can do that and still keep the rivalry game alive.

Interesting it was that in the same release announcing the two-year hiatus, the schools also announced a four-year extension of the Utah-BYU game, as though that extension is supposed to quell any objection by those who love the game and want to see it played. If either side can toss away the 2022 and 2023 games, even though they were signed up for, what’s to stop either side from tossing away any of the newly-contracted games?

What does a contract mean these days?

The reason those announcements were tethered is because Utah and BYU knew the game remains popular in this state, and that there are many people who do not want it threatened. So, the extension is there to not so subtly smooth the ruffles, be they among residents or politicians.

Maybe at some juncture Utah will not want to play the Cougars anymore. Perhaps BYU will no longer want to play the Utes on account of, well, losing nine straight to them has to hurt. But if it gets to either sad-and-sorry point, then everybody should just be honest about what’s really going on here and come clean with it.

That would be a jarring admission because traditions are a big part of life in Utah. They usually aren’t thrown out the window casually. A few of them might happily be chucked. But Utah and BYU playing in football is not one of those.

Each school has a proud legacy. Each has a strong base. Each draws passion from its fans. And, yes, there are some lunatics out there who take the whole thing too seriously, using the rivalry as an excuse to hate. But those are the minority. The majority just want to see the red and the blue play once a year, hold it over their friends’ heads, and then get on to whatever it is they seek to achieve in their own realms.

Pay homage, then, to those who have gone before, for 10 freaking decades, both Cougars and Utes, and respect what they’ve built by continuing a tradition worth honoring, same as it ever was.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.