Blue Blood: Can a single punch really derail a 100-year old rivalry?

COMMENTARY — Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on whether or not Utah and BYU should play each other every year in basketball.

Of course, the debate stems from Utah’s decision (Coach Larry Krystkowiak’s, actually, with an endorsement from athletic director Chris Hill) to cancel next season’s December game against the Cougars.

1byuutahThe Utes reason reportedly is safety. Krystowiak and his cronies are using thinly veiled hyperbole to basically call BYU a bunch of thugs. Utah fans are actually split on this. Some agree with the decision, while others are downright angry that the rivalry has been suspended.

Meanwhile, BYU coach Dave Rose expressed disappointment in Krystkowiak and the Utes for not keeping their word. It has nothing to do with contractual obligations, as the Utes will reportedly pay $80,000 or so to NOT play the game. Rose doesn’t want the money and neither does BYU. They want the game.

BYU fans are, for the most part, incensed. They’ve called Utah chicken. They’ve called Utah dishonest. They’ve even gone so far as to dig up old photos and videos of Krystowiak when he played. They aren’t flattering. After all, he used to be known as the “junkyard dog.”

Sigh. There’s been a lot of name-calling and a plethora of whining on both sides of the debate.

To me, here’s what it boils down to: Nick Emery took a cheap shot at Brandon Taylor. We don’t know what led up to it or how in the world Emery could have thought he could get away with it in today’s media-saturated world. But he did it.

BYU's Nick Emery. | Photo courtesy BYU Athletics
BYU’s Nick Emery. | Photo courtesy BYU Athletics

From Utah’s perspective, he wasn’t punished enough. Some Utah fans even play the religion card, saying somehow Mormons shouldn’t be human. His one-game suspension by the West Coast Conference and whatever undisclosed punishment Rose and his staff handed out was perceived by Krystkowiak as little more than a slap on the wrist.

Insiders have told me that Krystowiak tried to reach Rose during the Christmas break to complain, coach to coach, about Emery’s punishment. After failing to reach Rose, Krystkowiak went to his AD and asked for permission to cancel the BYU game next year. Hill, who has seemingly never liked playing BYU (he’s the one that suspended the BYU-Utah football game for two years), was more than happy to endorse Krystowiak’s decision.

And so, here we are. BYU is still asking for the game to be reinstated. Honestly, when the governor and the some state legislators got involved, I thought Utah would cave and the game would be back. But Utah remains steadfast, insisting there will be no BYU game next year (and as an added slight, stated in a press release that the Utes would love to play two instate schools every year, including BYU, Utah State, Weber State and Southern Utah in that list — hey, why not Dixie State, Snow College and Lone Peak High School?).

My biggest issue with the whole deal is this: Krystowiak said the rivalry has gotten “too intense” and he’s worried about the “safety” of his players. Really? So the BYU-Utah game is more intense than Duke-Carolina? Or Michigan-Michigan State? He’s worried about what a 21-year-old return Mormon missionary might do to his kids?

Come on, Krystko, you played in the NBA, where haymaker elbows and bone-jarring screens are the norm. Calling the series off because a punch was thrown?

In the words of one of the biggest Ute fans I know: “I hate BYU, but I hate this decision more. It’s bush league.”

All that aside, BYU has two very important West Coast Conference games this week. Thursday, the Cougars play at Gonzaga, where they stunned the Bulldogs a year ago. Saturday, the BYU is at Portland. The BYU-Gonzaga game is at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. The Cougars battle the Pilots Saturday at 4 p.m. and it will be televised on Root Sports.

Blue Blood is a sports column written by Andy Griffin. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.


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