SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah basketball team takes on Utah Valley Tuesday night at the Huntsman Center, it will mark the eighth time the Utes have played an in-state opponent since Larry Krystkowiak became the head coach 2011.
That’s eight in-state games in six seasons.
Heck, there used to be a time when the Utes would play nearly that many in-state games in a single season.
But these days, Utah’s schedule is filled with the likes of Prairie View A&M, coming in next week, and Northwest Nazarene, Concordia and Coppin State, who all paid a visit to the Huntsman Center last month and left with 40-point-plus losses. No longer do we see those exciting, intense in-state battles on a regular basis at the U.
So why don’t we have these in-state games as we did in the past instead of all these games against no-name schools that often can’t stay within 40 points of the Utes? After all, the Utes played Utah State every year — usually twice a year — for 101 out of 103 years, missing only because of a couple of World Wars going on back in the day. Those games were always sellouts in Logan or Salt Lake and brought some excitement every year to the December doldrums of preseason games.
However, the Utes and Aggies have never played each other since Krystkowiak took over as Ute coach and no games between the two appear to be on the horizon.
How about Weber State, which the Utes started playing on a regular basis in 1975 and only missed one year until 2011, when Krystkowiak took over the Ute program? The Utes and Wildcats haven’t played for five years.
Then there’s BYU, which the Utes played every year but one until since 1909 -- 257 times in all, until Krystkowiak decided he’d rather buy out the contract for the game this year than have to play the Cougars, who weren’t playing very nice against the Utes the past couple of years.
According to Krystkowiak it’s just too darn hard to arrange to play the in-state schools any more. Or something like that.
When I asked him recently why the Utes have never played Utah State since he became coach in 2011 after 67 years in a row, Krystkowiak said he didn’t want to play the Aggies because he was good friends with Stew Morrill. Apparently friends can’t play friends because someone has to lose. As for why the Utes and Ags can’t play now that Morrill’s been gone for two years, who knows?
Then there’s Weber State, which Utah played for 19 straight years including Krystkowiak’s first year. Perhaps the Wildcats’ 29-point win in 2011 behind future NBA star Damian Lillard had something to do with it, but Krystkowiak’s answer was that the two teams have talked about scheduling a game, but can’t work it out.
“It’s not like you pick up the phone and say ‘hey, let’s play,’” he said. “Certain dates are already filled, You start at point A on your schedule – and we didn’t start with Weber State as our first option — and plug it in.”
All I know is, Weber State coach Randy Rahe has said he would be glad to come down to Salt Lake to play the Utes, understanding that now that the Utes are in the Pac-12, they’re not likely to come to Ogden any more.
Last week the Utes played Montana State of the Big Sky and have also played another Big Sky school, Idaho State, four times in the past five years. Why not play Weber State one of those times instead?
Besides USU, Weber State and BYU, the Utes could play Southern Utah, which, give them credit, they did in 2015. Or how about scheduling Westminster or Dixie State instead of Northwest Nazarene and Concordia?
“It’s not our responsibility to play all the in-state schools,” Krystkowiak said.
It’s not a responsibility, but other in-state schools somehow manage to play each other pretty much every year.
Utah State and Weber State have played every year since 1971 and the Aggies and BYU have played every year but four since 1906. BYU has played Weber State all but a couple of years since 1973.
I’ve talked to several Ute fans and all say they’d much rather pay their money to see a few in-state opponents than a steady diet of Division II schools or low-level Division I schools. One season-ticket holder of more than 30 years recently told me the schedule is “a disgrace” and rhetorically asked if I knew how much money he spent on tickets every year.
But Krystkowiak says he isn’t worried that much about the fans.
“I’m not going to schedule everybody in the state of Utah so our fans will be happy,” he said.
So why not schedule more in-state games? I think it comes down to the fact that coaches are afraid what happened to BYU last week against Utah Valley might happen to them. It would almost be better to lose to Prairie View A&M than another school in the neighborhood.
Let me say that I like Krystkowiak a lot. He’s one of the most genuine, good guys I’ve covered in my 30 years in the profession. He’s obviously done a superb job in turning around the Ute program over the past few years and bringing it back to its glory days.
I’d just like to see his Utes get back to filling their schedule with a few more in-state opponents, satisfying the fans and bringing more excitement back to local college basketball.