Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment birthed the Beehive Classic in 2017 with the best of intentions.
Take Utah, BYU, Utah State, and Weber State, four of the state’s six Division I programs, and stage a one-admission doubleheader at Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Jazz. Over the course of the initial three-year agreement, everyone would play each other once, the event ultimately acting as a showcase for one of the nation’s underrated basketball states.
The best intentions at the start gave way to reality soon after. That reality came to a head on Wednesday when The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Saturday’s two-admission doubleheader, pitting Utah vs. Weber State (2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) and Utah State vs. BYU, would be the final Beehive Classic.
“I think the concept was a positive effort, but I think at the end of the day, there are enough neutral-site games on everybody’s schedule whether you’re playing in these exempt events and different things,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “Even with our season-ticket package, that’s a game that’s not included, so there’s always maybe been some things we didn’t think about from a financial point of view.
Tickets were expensive in 2017, $60 for the lower bowl, $30 for the upper bowl, $20 for students. Between the pricing, the games falling in the middle of final-exam time, and night tip-offs, interest wasn’t there for a Utah-Utah State and BYU-Weber State doubleheader. Vivint drew just 7,729 that evening, a flop by any metric.
Student tickets were cut in half for 2018, and upper-bowl seats were reduced from $30 to $20, but lower-bowl seats remained at $60. Tip times were moved from the evening to early afternoon. With Utah-BYU headlining the event with a noon tip, Vivint drew just 10,678.
In an attempt to solve these problems, Beehive organizers have settled on separate admissions for the two games Saturday, with tickets ranging from $28 in the lower bowl to $8 in the upper bowl. Student tickets are $5 through the schools and $8 at the arena. After Utah-Weber State, Vivint will be cleared ahead of the 6 p.m. tip between Utah State and BYU. For what it’s worth, the nightcap is the more attractive of the two matchups, so it will be interesting to see what each draws.
“These in-state games, they bring everything out of you,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “I’ve said it a 100 times, this [Utah State head coach] Craig Smith, how this guy cannot be in discussion for the coach of the year in the country last year and this year — I’m sure he is because what he’s done there has been astounding. It’s been unbelievable. So, we’re excited to go play a great, great team.”
Count Weber State coach Randy Rahe among those surprised by the lack of Beehive buzz.
“I thought it was a great idea when they put it together,” Rahe told The Tribune. “I thought it was good for the state and maybe looking back on it, you would have liked to see it better attended.
“I think whenever you get four teams from the same state in the same building, it’s a positive. It draws attention, there’s rivalries, so overall, I thought it was a very positive event for three years.”
From a scheduling perspective, the Beehive Classic ending will be a blip on the Utes’ radar. Utah, the state’s only Power Five program, will continue to schedule a mix of guarantee games at the Huntsman Center, home-and-homes, and multi-team events before Pac-12 play starts. For Weber State, things might get more difficult.
A competitive mid-major and a threat to win the Big Sky most years, teams are not exactly lining up to play the Wildcats in November and December. To that end, the Beehive offered one locked-in non-conference game against an in-state rival for three years. This year, it just happens to be a high-profile contest against the Utes.
As a point of reference, Weber State played an MTE in Florida during Thanksgiving week, while hosting West Coast Baptist and Westcliff University, neither of which are even NCAA-affiliated, as part of its non-conference schedule. In other years, Rahe has scored guarantee games against name programs, but those are getting harder to come by.
“We can get those schools to play us for $100,000, but we have a hard time getting some of those games now that we’ve had some success,” Rahe said. “We played at Dayton (in 2012), got the big paycheck, played well and won. It’s harder to get those now.”
Saturday’s meeting between Utah and Weber State will be the 41st all-time, but the first since the Wildcats blew the Utes out in Ogden in 2011, Krystkowiak’s first season in Salt Lake City. There has been no indication Utah will be scheduling Weber State any time soon.
UTAH vs. WEBER STATE
At Vivint SmartHome Arena
Tipoff: Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks.
Radio: ESPN 700.
Records: Utah, 7-2; Weber State, 3-5
Series history: Utah leads, 26-14
Last meeting: Weber State, 80-51 (2011)
About the Utes: Utah has been off since Dec. 7 when it defeated Central Arkansas, 98-67, at the Huntsman Center ... In that game, freshman point guard Rylan Jones missed the entire second half after taking an elbow to the ribs during the first half. Larry Krystkowiak did not offer an update on Jones when he met with reporters Friday after practice ... Sophomore guard Timmy Allen was named Pac-12 Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 25.5 points last week in wins over BYU and Central Arkansas ... Utah leads the Pac-12 in rebounding at 40.3 per game, a statistic that will be part of the focus next week when the Utes play Kentucky at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
About the Wildcats: Two-time All-Big Sky honoree Jerrick Harding leads Weber State in scoring at 20.1 points per game. The senior guard is coming off 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting in just 17 minutes against Westcliff on Dec. 7 ... Weber State is 0-3 in neutral-court games this season, dropping all three games at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida last month ... Head coach Randy Rahe was a Utah assistant from 2004-06 under Ray Giacoletti.