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Brad Rock: Keeping Utah-BYU basketball even bigger than football

SALT LAKE CITY — Much like the disappearance of gas-station attendants and phone booths, there’s another iconic institution potentially on its way out: BYU-Utah basketball.

At least that’s the way it sounded coming from BYU coach Dave Rose, who told KSL’s Greg Wrubell there is no Cougar-Ute game scheduled beyond 2014.

"In the last two years, as we have played through this contract, we have had discussions about extending the contract, but right now, we are kind of stalled. These may be the last two games we get,” Rose said.

“Really?” Wrubell said.

“Yeah,” Rose said.

So there’s already a two-year football break underway, and now the basketball series is uncertain?

Why not just tell us our Social Security savings will be gone by the time we need it?

Never mind.

Although Utah athletics director Chris Hill told the Deseret News “we know we’re going to play every year,” there’s no official confirmation on that. Something in the negotiations made Rose cautious.

It’s hard to imagine conference realignment or one-upmanship could ruin what Rick Majerus’ cursing couldn’t. Either way, ending the basketball rivalry would be a bigger mistake than ending football.

Compared to basketball, the football rivalry just got going.

There’s no denying football runs college sports. It gets the most exposure and makes the most money. With its once-a-week format and short conference schedules, every game is an event. Not so in college basketball. Weeks pass with no one paying much attention except Dick Vitale.

March Madness is inimitable, but a lot of “super fans” are actually just casual observers until the prospect of a postseason road trip appears. Then they get out the body paint.

Football has the country thinking about first downs from August to January.

But the main reason Utah-BYU needs to guarantee a continued rivalry in basketball is that it’s a considerable benefit to both. That’s not necessarily so in football.

It’s almost mandatory for basketball teams to win beyond 20 games to get an NCAA Tournament bid, unless they win their conference tourney. Also, strength of schedule figures heavily into the selection process. A win by BYU or Utah is a nice boost to either team’s postseason hopes.

Football? Meh.

As an independent, BYU doesn’t need to beat Utah in football. It’s always going to the Fight Hunger Bowl, or something similar, anyway. Meanwhile, Utah can go to the Rose Bowl (Alamo, Sun, etc.) without beating BYU.

The main way the rivalry game figures in is if it’s crucial to becoming bowl eligible.

Both can make the NCAA Tournament without one another, too, but a win over the other counts more with the selection committee than the bowl committees.

Because football is dominant, it’s easy to forget the basketball histories of these schools. There are arguably as many great names from the courts as from the gridiron: Mel Hutchins, Roland Minson, Arnie Ferrin, Jerry Chambers, Ticky Burden, Mike Newlin, Kresimir Cosic, Dick Nemelka, Jeff Congdon, Danny Ainge, Keith Van Horn, Mike Smith, Jeff Chatman, Andy Toolson, Tom Chambers, Danny Vranes, Billy McGill, Andre Miller, Devin Durrant, Travis Hansen and Andrew Bogut, for example.

Not to mention that Jimmer guy.

Football between BYU and Utah started in 1896, if you ask Utah, 1922 if you ask BYU. In basketball, there’s no dispute. BYU won the first-ever meeting, 32-9 on Jan. 23, 1909.

While the football series stands at 57-34-4 in Utah’s favor, it’s a much smaller difference in basketball, with BYU leading 129-125. BYU has won 11 of the last 12, including the last seven. But that was preceded by a 12-game Utah win streak, mostly in the 1990s.

Utah-BYU basketball doesn't have the buildup of football, but it’s richer in tradition and deeper in meaning than football. Both were basketball schools before football schools.

The basketball gave us Majerus pumping his fist as he left the Marriott Center, proclaiming himself “still the king of the hill!” It produced Jimmer Fredette’s half-court wonder shot. It gave us Frank Arnold fuming and stamping his feet and Majerus massaging his scalp and Jim Boylen telling reporters after a loss to BYU that he felt “like (expletive), that’s how I feel.”

It’s how I’ll feel, too, if they don’t keep this going.

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