Through the years, Western Athletic Conference rivals Wyoming and BYU have hardly been the best of friends. There have been a series of incidents - most of them during the basketball season - that have soured relations betwen the two schools. With all that in mind and poised to meet on the football field Saturday, BYU and Wyoming chose this weekend to heal old wounds.
On Friday night, BYU Football Coach LaVell Edwards and Wyoming Basketball Coach Benny Dees participated in a reception on the BYU campus, at least in part to help smooth over relations between the schools. On Saturday morning, an hour and a half before the BYU-Wyoming kickoff, BYU President Rex Lee and Wyoming President Terry Roark hastily called a press conference in the Cougar Stadium press box to do their part in improving the schools' relationship."It's been said that at times the rivalry between the two schools has exceeded what's reasonable, and I would second that," said Roark. "Overall a good rivalry has developed between the schools, and we're not going to let a few fans who have behaved inappropriately sully that."
Said Lee, "Our concern is the general one - fan control throughout the conference, not just at BYU and Wyoming."
Lee and Roark said they met 15 minutes earlier and agreed to appear together at the press conference with the hope of setting an example. "What presidents can do is set a tone from the top," said Roark. "If good sportsmanship is important to them, then it will be important (to fans)."
The BYU-Wyoming rivalry has been marred in recent years by a number of incidents. A few years ago, then BYU basketball coach Frank Arnold called Wyoming fans "despicable" following a game in Laramie - a term those fans have never quite forgotten or forgiven. Wyoming fans once threw a paper cup onto the floor that played a direct role in the outcome of a BYU-Wyoming basketball game. Last year Wyoming basketball players refused to shake hands with BYU players before a game in Laramie - a game that was marred further by a couple of incidents between players during play.
"Whenever there have been problems it's always been on both sides," said Lee.
"We're telling fans to cheer their team but do it with class," said Roark.
Lee and Roark stresed that sportsmanship has been a conference-wide problem and that Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Joe Kearney has been dealing with it. "Most of the efforts have been made by Commissioner Kearney," said Lee. "He's come up with new guidelines for game managers, players, coaches, fans, cheerleaders . . . ."
Kearney says much of the WAC's current focus on sportsmanship was triggered by "a few incidents that all seemed to come together last year." Kearney has visited with each WAC football team this fall to discuss sportsmanship with the players - specifically, "taunting, racial slurs, religious slurs, proper public comments." Kearney says he also will meet with the WAC's basketball teams later this fall.